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Cognitive Strength of Your Cat: Feline Memory Facts and Frequently Asked Questions

Cats have been known to have an incredible memory! They can remember a person’s face for up to 10 years! And kitties become attached to their humans, so in case you were wondering, yes, your cat remembers and misses you when you’re gone for a few weeks, and they mourn when a trusted companion drops out of their life.

Cats also have an associative memory — they’re great at connecting positive and negative experiences to both people and places. And, of course, after a move, they’re famous for showing up at their old home, sometimes thousands of miles away, demonstrating the strength of their place-related memory skills!

Short-Term Memory

Cats, like humans, have both long-term and short-term memories. Cats primarily use their short-term memories to solve problems, often involving obtaining access to food. And anyone who’s ever been around a cat can tell you these creatures have serious abilities when it comes to getting hold of supposedly well-locked up cat food — feline short-term memory is a pretty powerful problem-solving machine.

Cats also use their short-term memories to recall where they most recently found prey and where and when their food bowl most often appears. Feline short-term memory codes and recalls events experienced and information learned within the past 16 hours and then uses that data to solve problems.

Long-Term Memory

Feline long-term memory is often accessed when it comes to remembering people and experiences. It’s a long-term memory that’s responsible for a cat recognizing a returning loved one after a long period of separation. It’s also what’s behind the tendency some cats have to avoid certain types of people or react negatively to particular environments. It’s also the reason particular cats respond to certain noises or smells by becoming extremely stressed.

Feline long-term memory links people, sounds and environments to positive and negative experiences. Cats are more likely to remember individuals they associate with pleasant experiences such as being fed and getting petted. Long-term memories can stay active forever. It involves the types of memories we can actively direct our brains to recall.

Moments that are emotionally charged and have memorable consequences tend to be the ones cats, and humans remember the most. And while clarity of recall does decrease over time, long-term memories fade in order of impact, with truly traumatic or comforting memories perhaps never disappearing entirely from a cat’s psyche.

Frequently Asked Questions
Do Cats Recognize Other Cats?

Yes, cats form strong social bonds with other cats. If a cat is rehomed or passes away, it is common for the remaining cats to display behaviors such as withdrawal and sadness due to the loss of a close companion. Additionally, kittens engage in scent-exchange while nursing and playing, using scent to identify their littermates as family members.

Kittens that grow up together are able to recognize each other by smell for some time after being separated, but no one knows how long this ability to identify a littermate by scent persists. Cats probably have strong, long-lasting memories of other animals they form deep bonds with over time.
Do Dogs Remember Places?

Absolutely. Dogs have an uncanny ability to find their way back home when lost or after a move. Howie, a dog in Australia, was sent to stay with friends while his family went on vacation. He escaped and found his way back home, a trek of more than 1000 miles.

And then there’s Holly — a dog who ran off in Daytona Beach, Florida during a road trip and was given up for lost. Holly somehow found her way home, walking more than 200 miles to her family’s home in West Palm Beach. Scientists aren’t entirely sure what allows dogs to remember places so well and navigate to them so efficiently, but they suspect it has something to do with dogs’ ability to read the earth’s magnetic fields.

Do Dogs Have Memory Problems?

Yes. Dogs can experience memory problems due to disease or age. Dogs with brain tumors often show signs of cognitive decline. And diseases such as hyperthyroidism can cause symptoms resembling those associated with canine dementia. Dogs who are going blind or having trouble hearing frequently start to display behaviors often seen in dogs suffering from cognitive difficulties.

But a significant number of dogs simply begin to experience cognitive problems as they age — canine dementia occurs relatively frequently in dogs over 10 years old. About 1 in 3 dogs will display at least 1 common dementia-related symptom by the age of 14. And at least 50 percent of dogs older than 15 have symptoms associated with cognitive decline.

No one knows what causes canine dementia, although there is some suggestion of an inherited component. What veterinarians do know is that canine dementia is a disease in which the canine brain progressively degenerates, resulting in the development of one or more symptoms associated with cognitive decline.

Memory problems in cats do not manifest in the same way as in humans. Instead of forgetting where the keys are, cats with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline tend to become easily disorientated and show serious changes in their behavior. Some cats begin to excessively groom themselves, urinate or defecate in inappropriate places, and refuse to engage in their favorite activities. Others begin to sleep during the day and remain awake all night. Refusing food and excessive vocalization are other common symptoms.

What Can I Do to Protect My Cat’s Memory?

Maintaining good feline health, including good long-term cognitive function, is key. This involves providing good food, lots of exercise, and mental stimulation. Food puzzles encourage cats to use their natural curiosity to solve problems and are a great way to keep their brains active. Engaging in games and plenty of feline-human interaction are also important for preventing cognitive decline.

Supplements may also help reduce the risk of your pet experiencing cognitive decline. There is some evidence that cats with memory loss benefit from getting extra vitamins E and C, selenium, beta-carotene, and carnitine. Some veterinarians suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids may also be beneficial.

Cats should never be given human vitamins or supplements. If you suspect your cat is experiencing memory problems, consult your pet’s veterinarian for advice. The veterinarian can provide an accurate diagnosis and give you medically sound advice on treatment options, including nutritional supplementation if appropriate.


Cats clearly remember people, environments, and events. They are able to recognize the faces of individuals who have shown them kindness and affection for up to 10 years. Cats also form strong negative memories and will avoid people, sounds, environments, and situations associated with traumatic experiences in their lives. Kitties form strong attachments to people – they not only form deep bonds with their humans, but they remember the good times spent with their favorite people.

Cats deeply mourn the loss or departure of those they love, whether it be humans, cats, or dogs. And like humans, cats often suffer from cognitive decline as they age. However, there are several things you can do to potentially reduce your cat’s chances of developing feline dementia, including providing mental stimulation through games and puzzles.