Do cats remember their past?

Antonio65

TCS Member
Thread starter
Top Cat
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Messages
5,301
Purraise
8,014
Location
Orbassano - Italy
I know that animals live in the present, they do not cling to the past, they do not think about tomorrow, but I always wondered if cats remember their past, their childhood. Mainly, in the case of rescue cats that are now living with us in our home, sleeping in a cozy and soft bed, with regular meals and lots of love, I wonder if they remember of the days when they were feral and had to fend for themselves, struggling to find some food and fighting for a spot where to find shelter.
Do they remember their mother and siblings? Do they remember they came from a colony with other cats? Are they aware of the difference between living in a constant condition of threat (before) and the safety of the house (now)?
 

di and bob

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
15,338
Purraise
20,179
Location
Nebraska, USA
I think they remember some, but like a mama cat that no longer recognizes her offspring from a few months ago, it is hazy and instinct takes over. They recognize people from their past, but still shy away for a while. They learn a lot through routine and habit, I think that sticks with them longer.
 

Margot Lane

Kitten at heart, not a Top Cat
Top Cat
Joined
Oct 24, 2021
Messages
2,797
Purraise
5,208
I don’t know but have always wished I could bring back Mom, whomever she is, so my boy could see her. Probably there’d be no teary eyed reunion, but, sometimes I wonder what Zorro dreams about, esp. when he purrs, or behaves like a kitten.
 

Alldara

TCS Member
Super Cat
Joined
Apr 29, 2022
Messages
1,043
Purraise
1,392
I believe it's like humans where some memories are very strong and some fade with time. Especially young kitten memories will not be as strong as they get 'kitten amnesia' much like humans get 'infant amnesia'.

Nobel certainly seems to remember people who do not visit on a schedule. He's lived with my siblings and mother before, we started out there together. He's much more attached to them than say my brother in law who he's only met a couple of times. I'm not sure if he'd remember the other side of my family, who he only lived with a few months when young. He remembers people for many years usually. One old roommate he is still frightened of when they carry a water bottle and not any other time (they drop it alot and it scares him).
 
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #6

Antonio65

TCS Member
Thread starter
Top Cat
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Messages
5,301
Purraise
8,014
Location
Orbassano - Italy
I believe it's like humans where some memories are very strong and some fade with time. Especially young kitten memories will not be as strong as they get 'kitten amnesia' much like humans get 'infant amnesia'.

Nobel certainly seems to remember people who do not visit on a schedule. He's lived with my siblings and mother before, we started out there together. He's much more attached to them than say my brother in law who he's only met a couple of times. I'm not sure if he'd remember the other side of my family, who he only lived with a few months when young. He remembers people for many years usually. One old roommate he is still frightened of when they carry a water bottle and not any other time (they drop it alot and it scares him).
Do you think a cat can remember his/her mother and siblings, the days when they were all playing together?
 

Alldara

TCS Member
Super Cat
Joined
Apr 29, 2022
Messages
1,043
Purraise
1,392
Do you think a cat can remember his/her mother and siblings, the days when they were all playing together?
It must depend on how long they got to stay with their siblings and mother.

Nobel wouldn't as he was moved at 10 weeks.

I think Calcifer might as he's still young and he stayed with them until 5 months. He's never seemed to miss them though. He never cried or looked for them. I think he was happy to share significantly less.

However, cats are considered kittens until 6 months, so over time I would expect them to forget, due to infant amnesia.

Infantile Amnesia: A Critical Period of Learning to Learn and Remember


So yeah, maybe a much more scientific answer than everyone is looking for but I think for most cats, they'll lose that over time. How long they remember for who'll depend on how much time they spent together, and how old they were when separated and how much time has passed since then.
 

di and bob

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Dec 12, 2012
Messages
15,338
Purraise
20,179
Location
Nebraska, USA
Animals brains are just not like ours. They are not able to.process input like we do. Mamas dont recognize their own babies after a few months, why grown cats would not recognize each other after a few months. They remember a lot through smell, and sound, more then sight. If someone hurts them a few times, they avoid that person, maybe not because of specific memories, but more because they have programmed it into their instinct for survival. Routine over a long period of time helps to ingrain it deeper into their brains, helps them to 'remember' , especially if it brings them happiness or pleasure. They may recognize certain people, etc., not as we remember, but more the deep 'feelings' they have, comfort and pleasure, or distrust and fear.
 

maggie101

3 cats
Top Cat
Joined
Apr 20, 2014
Messages
6,180
Purraise
7,207
Location
Houston,TX
My cat that disappeared at 5 weeks old and came back a year later was rubbing against my porch door not looking for her mom it could be she was taken by a neighbor close by and remembered where her food used to be She is afraid of the outdoors now probably because she remembers thunder and lightning Lots of scary things outside
 

amethyst

TCS Member
Super Cat
Joined
Nov 25, 2016
Messages
828
Purraise
2,397
Location
Alberta, Canada
I doubt they remember their mom and siblings if they didn't stay with them past kitten hood. Cats brains do work a bit differently then ours, so as mentioned they remember smells and feelings more. Also cats do have selective memory, so they only remember and retain things that matter, like friend and foe, in their day to day life. Biological family that they don't live with or ever see again is not something that matters in their day to day life and therefore not something worth taking up brain space after a certain amount of time apart.

I think more likely things from the past of a rescue cat they are going to remember are more serious things, for example being abused by someone or attacked by another animal, they will likely be fearful of people or animals that even look or smell like the one that hurt or scared them because avoiding them could mean life or death. Likewise on the flip side they will likely retain a memory of being treated well, for example someone that regularly gave them food before they had a home, they may not remember the going hungry part but they will remember this person made them feel good/happy.
 

danteshuman

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 27, 2017
Messages
4,719
Purraise
5,512
Location
California
I would say to a degree they do. Why? Becuase when my cat was a kitten it took him 6 months to get to his normal/mild level of separation anxiety after a failed adoption of a few weeks!!! That is not living in the moment; that is fear from the past.

During the pandemic my cat & I could not go to my mom’s house like usual for 5 weeks. She had Covid. So I was pleasantly surprised when all the cats welcomed Jackie back like nothing had happened (his brother and bff included.) I still try to visit every week or at most every two weeks so their communal smell is the same.

I have heard of cats having PTSD after a fire or hurricane. In general I think pets hold onto the good more than we do & are way better at letting go of the bad.
 

danteshuman

TCS Member
Top Cat
Joined
Mar 27, 2017
Messages
4,719
Purraise
5,512
Location
California
The infant memory thing, cats are kittens but not babies for 6 months. I would say they are babies/toddlers until 3 months. I know I was able to teach 9 week old kittens high 5 or a high 10 by the time they were 11 weeks old. (I was trying to get them adopted.
 

FeebysOwner

TCS Member
Staff Member
Forum Helper
Joined
Jun 13, 2018
Messages
17,701
Purraise
24,179
Location
Central FL (Born in OH)
I really struggled with this one - first thinking I don't want to remark, then second guessing that - and back and forth. And, I have typed several responses, only to delete them because they did not convey what I really want to say.

IMO, this is trying to interject human feelings/memories/culture on cats. That is apparently not how they operate. We cannot know what they think, nor assume that we can. Treat each one as the individuals that they are to the best of our human capabilities.
 

treeclimber

TCS Member
Young Cat
Joined
Aug 24, 2018
Messages
96
Purraise
121
My cat stayed with my family for a year while I was in another country. When I got back he walked up to me within 5-10 minutes of me coming in the door, purred when I picked him up for a hug, and cuddled with me on my bed that evening, so I think he remembered me. :)

Before the trip I had taught him "sit", and when I came back he still knew it. Mostly. At the start of each session it would take a few tries to get the first "sit", but as soon as he got a treat for for the first "sit" he remembered - he didn't have to figure out again that it was the sitting that got him the treat (which took a while when he first learned it).

He also comes with me when I visit my family, so each time he has to get reacquainted with their cats. We don't have to do a cat intro every time I visit, he just spends one day separate from the others to give him time to settle in, then the next day he comes out and joins the household. He does not hide after that first settling-in day, by the time he's released into the house he's ready to go check out his favorite places to hang out.

The lack of hiding/chasing/yowling/fighting when the cats are reintroduced makes me think they remember each-other. Their younger cat (who has spent less time with him) will hiss at him if he comes too close for the first 48 hours or so. Their older cat (who's known him longer and likes to cuddle with him) is a bit distant for the first few days, but is not terrified of him like he would be with an unfamiliar cat. Usually by day 2-3 the older cat will be cuddling with him again and the younger cat will have stopped hissing.

I'm not sure they can think about the past in an abstract way like thinking back on what life was like before their current home. But when something/someone from their past is there, I think they can recognize what's familiar, what has scared/hurt them in the past, which window in the house was their favorite place to sit and watch birds, etc.
 
Last edited:

Alldara

TCS Member
Super Cat
Joined
Apr 29, 2022
Messages
1,043
Purraise
1,392
The infant memory thing, cats are kittens but not babies for 6 months. I would say they are babies/toddlers until 3 months. I know I was able to teach 9 week old kittens high 5 or a high 10 by the time they were 11 weeks old. (I was trying to get them adopted.
Yea it is a bit of a misnomer. Just as we don't remember things from toddler good or even young childhood. The odd person may remember a thing or two but generally it's a universal phenomenon.
 
Top