Do Cats Remember Their Owners After Being Separated?


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Pet owners may wonder if their cat would remember them if they were separated.  Many cats are considered beloved members of the family. Sometimes, however, cats are separated from their owners.  My childhood pet cat ran away when I was younger. We wondered if he missed us as much as we missed him. We remember our cats when we are separated – but do they remember us?  

Do cats remember their owners after being separated? Yes. Studies have shown that cats have excellent memories, especially long-term memories.  This allows cats to remember people – long after they have been separated.

cat with owner

Researchers in Georgia have conducted studies on both the long-term and short-term memory of cats to determine what they remember, and for how long. (source)

Do cats remember their owners after being separated? Based on my personal pet experience, the answer is “yes” – four years after wandering away, my family cat found us – even though we had moved down the street.  So, just what do cats remember?

Cats and Long-Term Memories

First, some good news – most cats have a long memory, especially for the things that matter to them.   Research shows that cats remember events that have either a very positive or very negative impact. Moments such as those related to:

  • Food
  • Survival
  • Events that have an emotional impact

Are especially memorable to cats, according to PetMD.

Thanks to their long-term memories, cats are also famous for holding grudges.  A cat who has had a bad experience with a tall man, for example, may hiss at all tall men for the rest of their feline life.

The strong emotional experience, coupled with their impressive long-term memories, makes it hard for them to let go of their grudge.

So, if your cat is one of the lucky felines to avoid brain issues as they age, they will continue to remember you even if they are separated from you for a considerable amount of time.

Does the Age of the Cat Make a Difference as to Whether or Not it Will Remember?

There are many similarities between the human brain and a cat’s brain.  Just like humans, a cat’s memory will decline as they get older. And just like human babies, kittens do not have fully developed brains.  

kitten with her owner

Will My Older Cat Remember Me?

As they lose brain cells, a cat’s ability to hold onto memories goes down as well.  So, if your cat is very old when you get separated, it is possible they won’t remember for long. 

Quite a few older cats will have difficulty remembering things as they age.  According to ModKat, studies have shown many older cats have brain dysfunction and memory loss as they get older.  This happens to:

  • About half of older cats ages 11-15 
  • 80% of cats ages 16-20 years

When cats lose brain functions due to age, the symptoms are similar to dementia.  This means the cat who will have difficulty remembering the past.

Will My Kitten Remember Me?

Similarly, very young cats have brains that are still developing.  Thus, long-term memories may not form in young cats and kittens in the same way as adult cats.  If you own a kitten and find yourself separated from them, it is possible they will not remember you.  Once the kitten’s brain is fully developed, their ability to store long-term memories will be too.

What About Time Periods, Will a Cat Forget Their Owner After a Week?  A Month? A Year?

If you have owned your pet for any considerable amount of time, it is highly likely your cat will remember you not only after a week or month has passed, but even after years of separation. 

This is good news for pet owners who travel frequently and leave their pets for days or weeks at a time.

If you go out of town for a week, your cat will still remember you.  If you find yourself called away for even longer – perhaps a month – your cat will still remember who you are. 

This is because cats have long memories and hold on especially well to the moments that were extreme – the great times and the awful times. If you create a positive, nurturing environment for your pet, over time they will associate you with these good feelings.

However, if you had your cat for a very brief time, or if you just met the animal, chances are they will not remember you for long.  Studies on cats’ short-term memories, like this one from Science Direct, show they only remember things for a maximum of 16 hours after experiencing them. 

In other words, if the event was not exciting enough to settle in their long-term memories, a cat will forget in less than a day.

Ways You Can Bond With Your Cat

So, how can you improve the chances of your cat remembering you, even if you get separated?  The answer lies in how you spend your quality time together.  

Cats are natural predators, and their hunting instincts are still intact.  That’s why so many of their favorite toys seem to mimic furry or feathery animals.  Some of these toys include:

  • A stick with feathers attached
  • Squishy mouse-shaped toy
  • Ball of yarn 

These toys act as potential “prey” for a cat. 

If you want your cat to remember you, take time to play with them, using a toy that mimics the hunting experience.  Cats remember what they enjoy, and a fun game will linger in their memories for a long time.

Another way to bond with your cat, as any pet owner can attest, is to feed them. I often wonder if my cats really love me or are just in it for the food! Cats will bond with the person that feeds them every day, and it is an easy way to ensure they never forget you.

Cat owners can take things a step further by combining food and play.  Using a toy such as a laser pointer, for example, will help your pet bond with you as they pretend to hunt.  After playing, you could reward your cat with a fish-flavored treat.

Feeding them out of your hand will help them associate you with the good feelings from playing and eating.  You may find this leads to them curling up in your lap for a nice nap.

hand feeding cat

Preventing Memory Loss

Something you can do to ensure your cat doesn’t forget you as they get older is to take care of their brain.  A way to care for your pet’s mental health is through their diet.

ModKat says food rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help keep a cat’s brain healthy.  Look for dry and wet cat foods that list omega-3 fatty acids in their ingredients. If you aren’t sure, you can ask your vet for a list of foods that will nourish your cat’s mental health.

Healthy food will provide your cat with another benefit: a healthy weight.  Cats who maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives are less likely to develop medical issues later.  Playing with your cat each day, especially play that involves exercise, will help your pet stay in shape as well.

In addition to feeding your pet a healthy diet and keeping them trim, talking to your vet can provide more ways to lengthen your cat’s life and help them avoid brain dysfunction. Vets stay up-to-date on the latest research with pets and can help give you pointers to keep your cat’s memories intact.  

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April

I'm an avid animal lover, former veterinary assistant, and blogger. My undergraduate work included a pre-veterinary curriculum and some graduate work along those lines as well from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA (GO BRONCOS!). These days I blog about all sorts of animal-related topics. Many I have or currently personally own, some I don't but am just interested in. Nothing in this blog should be construed as veterinary advice. I am a 100% advocate that if you think something is wrong with your pet, take it to a vet.

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