Do Cats Have Long-Term Memory?

Kitty's intelligence is about the same as that of a 2- or 3-year old human.
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You scolded Kitty just yesterday for playing in the blinds, but today he's at it again. Stunts such as this might make you think Kitty can't remember anything for more than a few minutes. But although cats are notoriously tricky to train, they do have long-term memory.

Kitty's Brain

Kitty's brain, while smaller than yours, is a lot like it. He has frontal, temporal, occipital and parietal lobes just like a human brain. His brain is also made up of white and gray matter. The same five senses send information to his brain.

The most accepted theory about how Kitty remembers things is called neural combination theory. Kitty has connections between the neurons in his brain. Each neuron stores a part of a memory, and when the right combination of neurons is activated, Kitty will recall a memory.

Kitty's Memory

In one test of where to find food, cats' short-term memory lasted about 16 hours, compared with only five minutes for dogs.

Long-term memory for a cat is more powerful. Although a cat might lock only a few people or places into his long-term memory, he can remember them for years. He can remember certain places or people for most of his life.

The most impressionable age is 2 to 7 weeks old. If a feral kitten his no interaction with humans during this period, he might never trust them. This is also the period when a domesticated feline learns to trust and depend on his human companion.

Learning Ability

A cat's memory and decision-making skills are on par with those of a 2- or 3-year old. He learns by observation. He can learn how to open doors by watching you do it. He'll learn how to hunt and groom himself by watching his mom.

He's also capable of solving puzzles. If you've seen Kitty jump onto five things just to snuggle on top of your refrigerator, you've witnessed this ability.

Senior Kitty

As Kitty ages, his brain function will decline. Feline cognitive dysfunction is a disease similar to Alzheimer's in humans. It is caused by deterioration of the brain itself, leading to reduced cognitive functioning. A cat with this condition has trouble getting around, because he becomes disoriented easily.

Accidents outside his litter box are likely, because he might forget where it is or what it's for. He might become more anti-social, retreating to spend long periods of time by himself. Just as with humans, his memory won't be as sharp as it was in his youth.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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