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Do Cats Remember People? The consensus of opinion is yes!

Although they can’t verbally confirm it, cats appear to remember people, especially those they have formed strong bonds with.

Cats are known for their long-term memory and can recognize and remember individuals based on their scent, voice, and interactions. Cats may display signs of recognition and familiarity when they see someone they know, such as purring, rubbing against them, or showing other affectionate behaviors.

A tortoiseshell cat in her favorite person's arms.

However, it’s important to note that individual cats vary in their social and memory capabilities. Some cats may have stronger memories and recognition abilities than others.

Additionally, a cat’s memory may be influenced by the quality of the interactions they’ve had with a person and the amount of time that has passed since their last encounter.

How Do Cats Remember People?

Cats have a unique way of remembering people based on their senses, experiences, and interactions. While cats may not remember people in the same way humans do, they can form strong associations and recognize individuals through various cues.

Here are 7 ways that cats remember people:

1. Scent

Cats have a highly developed sense of smell. They can remember people by associating their scent with positive or negative experiences. If a cat has had pleasant interactions with a person, they are likely to remember that person’s scent and respond positively when they encounter it again.

2. Voice and face

Cats can recognize and remember familiar voices. If a person consistently speaks to a cat in a soothing or friendly manner, the cat may associate that voice with positive experiences and remember the person accordingly.

A recent study has provided evidence about cats’ cross-modal ability to recognize humans by matching individual voices and faces but this ability appears to be limited to the owners and is not extended to unfamiliar people (Source)

3. Body Language

Cats are observant animals and can remember people based on their body language and behavior. If a person has treated a cat kindly and respectfully, the cat may remember their gestures and movements.

4. Positive Experiences

Cats form memories based on positive or negative experiences. If a person has provided treats, playtime, or affection to a cat, the cat is more likely to remember them as a source of enjoyable experiences.

A cat settling in his owner's arms.

5. Frequency of Interaction

Regular interactions with a cat can lead to recognition and memory formation. Cats are more likely to remember people they see often and have regular positive interactions with.

6. Associations with Locations

Cats also associate people with specific places. If a person frequently visits a cat’s favorite spot, the cat may remember them in connection with that location.

7. Time and Consistency

Cats may take time to develop strong memories of people. Consistency and positive interactions over time can help solidify a cat’s memory of an individual.

A tortoiseshell cat in her new home.

It’s important to note that each cat is unique, and their ability to remember people can vary. Some cats may form strong bonds and memories with specific individuals, while others might be more reserved. Building trust, offering positive experiences, and being patient are key factors in how cats remember people.

10 Ways Cats Show That They Remember People

Cats can show that they remember people in various ways, each one displaying their recognition and attachment. Here are 10 examples of ways cats might demonstrate their memory of individuals:

1. Affectionate Behavior

Cats might display increased affection, such as purring, head-butting, or kneading when they see someone they remember.

2. Purring

Cats often purr when they’re content, and they might do so more around people they remember and feel comfortable with.

3. Following

Cats may follow a person they know well around the house, seeking their attention and companionship.

4. Grooming

Cats might groom themselves or attempt to groom a person they remember as a sign of comfort and familiarity.

5. Vocalizations

Cats may use specific meows, chirps, or other vocalizations that they reserve for individuals they recognize.

6. Sleeping Nearby

Cats might choose to sleep close to someone they remember, indicating trust and a sense of security.

A tortoiseshell cat sleeping in her owner's bed.

7. Playfulness

Cats might engage in playful behavior with someone they remember, showcasing their comfort and enjoyment.

8. Slow Blinking

Cats often slow blink at people they feel relaxed and comfortable around, which can be a sign of recognition and affection.

9. Gifts

Some cats might bring “gifts” like toys or even prey as a gesture of trust and affection towards individuals they remember.

10. Relaxed Body Language

Cats generally exhibit relaxed body language, such as belly-up postures and softly twitching tails, around people they remember and feel safe with.

A cat on his owner's lap

It’s important to note that individual cats have unique personalities, and their ways of showing memory and attachment can vary. Some cats might display one or more of these behaviors, while others may have different ways of expressing themselves.

Do cats remember their old owners?

Cats may remember their old owners through associative memories. They remember people they associate with their survival; owners new and old fit this bill. Cats have shown memories of previous owners months, even years later. However, they remember their most recent owners the most.

Cats store distinct memories of owners who have cared for them and for those who have treated them unkindly. If a cat was particularly attached to a previous owner, they will miss them, but this will not necessarily prevent them from forming a bond with their new owner.

If you are adopting a cat, you may be concerned that it will remember and miss its old owners. If you are having to rehome your cat you may be worried that it will always remember and miss you. We explore the way cats feel in these situations.

Cat remembering her owner and licking her face.

Reasons Why Cats Get Re-Homed

There are numerous reasons why cats are subjected to changes of owners. These include:

  • When they are sold as kittens by breeders.
  • Being abandoned by their previous owners.
  • Confiscation from unfit homes (abusive homes and hoarders).
  • Becoming lost.
  • Adoption from shelters.
  • When owners are unable to care for them any longer due to unforeseen problems.
  • When owners move and cannot take their cats with them.
  • When owners pass away.
  • When pet cats have kittens and they are given to new homes
  • If owners develop allergies

Cats And Attachment To Their Owners

Cats have a reputation for being independent, aloof creatures who are emotionally unattached to their humans, but this is not true.

Cats can become very attached to their families and often to one family member in particular, and they will show signs of missing that person when they are not around.

The fact that cats can miss their owners shows that they remember their owners when they are not together.

How A Cat’s Memory Functions

Just like us, cats have short-term memory and long-term memory.

Short-term (or working memory) stores information for up to 30 seconds. Short-term memory allows your cat to remember that it was chasing a mouse after it disappears into the undergrowth.

Long-term memory allows a cat to remember things that happened in the past, whether it was one week or two years ago.

If you feed your cat in the same spot each day, they will remember this and wait in that spot when they are hungry. This behavior indicates that they remember things that happen frequently. This is why cats are fans of routine.

Cats remember traumatic events. If they previously lived in an abusive home, they may respond negatively to something that reminds them of that period or the abusive acts. Triggers include certain noises, items, or even a person’s size or gender, etc.

They can also remember people. Cats do not forget their owners when they go to the store for a few hours or on vacation for one or two weeks.

They also do not forget teens who go to college for a few months. They don’t even forget their owners if they are away from home for a year or more (e.g., people in the military).

Cats also remember which people they like and which people they don’t like. If one member of your family is always picking up the cat when they don’t want to be held or is the only one who gives them medication and takes them to the vet, they may develop an aversion to that person.

Cat lying down and looking lonely.

Do Cats Usually Remember Their Old Owners?

Based on the information we have about a cat’s long-term memory, we can see that cats do remember their old owners. They are more likely to remember their old owners if they were with them for a long time and life with them was filled with memorable events (good, bad, or both).

Cats are most likely to remember a significant old owner. For example, they will miss an owner who passes away. If they remain in the same home, surrounded by memory triggers (sights, smells, locations, etc.) it may take some time for them to forget that person.

However, if in this situation the cat is taken to a new home, there will be fewer familiar things to actively remind them of their old owner. They soon adapt once they realize they are still being fed, watered, and provided with good company.

Do Cats Miss Their Old Owners?

If a cat’s previous owner was neglectful or abusive, the chances are they will feel relieved to get away from them and will not miss that person.

However, if a cat had a kind and caring previous owner to whom they were attached, then they are likely to miss that old owner until they adjust to a new home.

Even if a cat was not closely attached to its previous owners, it can miss the familiarity. For example, a shelter worker can’t spend time with each cat, but a cat may become accustomed to seeing them at certain times of the day and can be confused by the loss of that familiarity for a while.

Any distress or unhappiness associated with separation from their previous owners is always compounded by the change of routine and loss of a familiar environment. Cats do usually adapt given time, but change is not always easy for them.

Just because your cat can remember and even miss their previous owners does not mean that they cannot bond with you. Be kind, attentive, and patient, and you can become their new favorite person.

Cat reunited with previous owner and looking confused.

How To Make It Easier For A Cat To Adjust To A New Home

Owning a cat is a big responsibility. Many people concentrate on what they need to do and forget there are many things you should not do to a cat.

If you’re worried memories of your cat’s old owner will make it pine, there are several things you can do to help it build new memories of you.

Preparing a room in your house

Cats can feel overwhelmed and unsafe if they are presented with lots of unexplored space, so prepare one room in which they can spend their first few days just in case.

Make sure you equip this room with food, water, a litter tray, a bed, and toys. Make sure that everything is clean and does not smell like another pet.

Put the bed, litter tray, and feeding stations in separate parts of the room. Give your new cat somewhere to hide. The best option is usually the carrier crate they are brought home in (but leave it open).

Remember to cat proof your whole home too!

Spend time with your cat but respect their space

When you first bring your new cat home, you want them to know that you are there if they need or want you, but you aren’t going to force them to interact with you.

Sit on the floor to make yourself more accessible to them and spend as much time as possible with them. You should also leave them alone in the room each day to explore on their own.

Be consistent and set up routines

Cats find comfort in routine and consistency. Clean their litter tray and provide them with fresh food and water every day and at the same time.

Bond over food

Cats bond quite well with humans who feed them, so don’t just feed them and leave. Sit with them while they eat. You can also feed them by hand or with a spoon if they let you.

A tabby cat being shown its food dish.

Start introducing new things slowly

After a few days, you can start to introduce some new things. You can let them explore a larger area of the house or meet the other pets (make sure this is done safely and calmly).

These are just some of the ways you can make the transition easier for your new cat. But remember, each cat will be different and have different requirements, so you need to be attentive to them.

Do Cats Remember People? Conclusion

Cats are capable of remembering and even missing people. The extent and distress of their memories depend on the cat’s personality, their new situation (better or worse), the length of time they were in their previous situation, and if their previous owner was kind, cruel, or indifferent.

Even though cats can remember their old owners, this does not mean that they will not bond with new owners. You can quite quickly become their new preferred person, and they will not continue to miss their old owners forever – but if they saw them again, they might recognize them.

If you adopt an adult cat from previous owners or a shelter, there are plenty of ways you can make it easy for the cat to adapt to its new life with you. And it won’t take long either. Cats are quite resilient and soon adapt to change.

Overall, while cats may remember people, the depth and duration of their memory can vary from cat to cat.