HOW CATS REMEMBER
Understanding a Cat’s Memory
Looking back in history, there was a time when cats were respected animals among royalty and in fact, they were worshiped as Gods. Most cat owners can easily relate because cats by nature tend to command respect. Although there are similarities between dogs and cats regarding behavior and emotions, there are also a number of key differences such as memory.
Whereas a dog’s memory is based a lot on learned behaviors, the ability for cats to remember things is quite unique. Additionally, cats compared to dogs can remember things for a much longer period of time. However, cats can also be manipulative and they can resolve complex challenges, plan and execute hunting schemes, and even use what is known as “emotional mapping”. Because of this, a cat’s memory is fascinating and something every feline owner should understand.
Similarities in Memory
A tremendous amount of research has been dedicated to understanding a cat’s memory and what studies show is that there is little difference between reference material stored in the brain of cats and humans. However, when compared to dogs, experts have proven that cats have close to 200 times more retention even though behavior is related to that of a three-year-old child.
When a dog goes through multiple training sessions, neurons within the brain create recall that is seen more in the form of learned behavior. Interestingly, the memory span for a dog is only about five minutes whereas for a cat, information can be retained for approximately 16 hours. However, in order for a cat to have such amazing recall of information, the activity or action must be something of interest or benefit.
Wild versus Domestic Cats
Prior to cats becoming domesticated, they lived in the wild. In order to survive harsh elements and conditions, memory was critical. For one thing, cats hunt alone in the wild whereas dogs hunt in packs. Because of this, a cat must rely on its own ability of solving problems and making good decisions opposed to dogs that can rely on stored information of one another.
Although you might own a sweet, domesticated cat, this animal still relies on many of the same memories as if living in the wild. While some memories are learned, others are deeply engrained and passed down. A perfect example of this is watching a cat play with a toy mouse. Just as if living in the wild, the animal has the ability to re-enact a hunt by stalking and then pouncing on its “prey”.
Good and Bad Memories
Cats also have stored information that relates to both good and bad events. In both instances, the memory has been created by a specific experience. Bad memories might relate to the way the animal was treated by a previous owner, living in an unpleasant environment, or even going hungry. However, those memories can be pushed to the back of the animal’s mind with positive experiences. A new owner who is loving and kind, provides a safe home and warm bed, and ensures the cat has regular feedings makes it possible for good memories to be created.
Long-term memories in dogs tend to be the strongest when associated with certain senses such as smelling and hearing. For cats, there is a distinct connection between short-term memory and vision but for long-term memory, these animals rely heavily on the most recent physical movement. In fact, physical experiences play a vital role in how a cat recalls information long-term.
By nature, cats are emotional creatures and therefore, they will actually go through a mourning process when an owner or even feline playmate dies. Because of the way a cat’s memory works, it is imperative they are consoled and loved during periods of grief. For instance, some cats will develop aggressive behaviors or go through bouts of having accidents in the house when a loved owner dies. It is during this type of experience that a cat should never be scolded or punished because that reaction quickly becomes stored long-term memory that can be difficult to break.
Studies show that a cat’s memory is directly linked to a pleasurable or uncomfortable experience. Sadly, there are thousands upon thousands of cats that have developed memories based on negativity but as stated, with time, patience, and effort, it is possible to create new and healthy memories that turn a scared and angry cat into one that is loving and loyal. With each positive experience, negative memories fade.
It is true that for some cats, memories are nothing more than instinctual but in most cases, long-term memories are developed through both physical and mental experiences. Along with this, these memories lock into the brain according to the way the animal felt at the time of the event. Simply put, cats have great short-term memory but this animal’s long-term memory is simply astonishing.
Check out our article on dogs memory