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Do Cats Remember Their Old Owners?

Many cats have at least two owners or families in their lifetime: the breeder and the person or family who adopts them. Cats seem to remember things from their past. This capacity for memory can be seen by their propensity to look for their old house after moving with their family. Does this memory extend to previous owners?

Cats remember their old owners because of associative memories. They remember all people who they can 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 new bond with a 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 fell in these situations.

Cat remembering 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 cat 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 over food, so don’t just feed them and leave. Sit with them while they eat. You can also feed them by hand or from a spoon if they let you.

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 Their Old Owners? Conclusion

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

Even though cats can remember their old owners, this does not mean that they can never adjust to a new home. You can quite quickly become their new owner and preferred person, and they will not continue to miss their old owners forever – but if they saw them again, they would likely recognize them.

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

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