What do Cats Remember?
We all forget things – I certainly do!! What this really means, is that we choose to prioritise events and thoughts every day. The less relevant they become, the harder they are to recall, until we eventually forget them. I do sometimes wonder though, what does a cat actually remember? And how far back can those memories go? When photographing cats around Melbourne, we have these interesting discussions with owners.
It may sound a little harsh, but there is a consensus that cats remember only what matters most to them. This will often include:
- Where can I safely sleep?
- Where will I find food?
- What events lead up to food being available?
- Is that cat over there, a friend or a stranger?
- Is it too painful for me to stand on this?
Some of these are everyday concerns, but are really linked to three very different emotions – Contentment, Fear and Pain. As with many other mammals, there is an important concept of memory, known as “imprinting”. The reason I mention this is that psychologists have defined imprinting to be an association between important events, and one of these significant emotions. The stronger the association, the more likely it is that a cat will recall them. And the more they recall their importance, the more likely it will trigger some consequential thinking. In other words, the cat will give some thought as to what this event is going to mean for their immediate lives.
Like humans, the assumption is that cats sometimes need this association to be reinforced for it to be permanently remembered. For example, if a cat is unfortunate enough to slip into a bath of hot water, it may never enter the family bathroom again, or even go near a garden pond! However, if the water is tepid, the cat may be wary of something in the bathroom, but may yet still risk that slippery tightrope walk around the baths’ edge.
We find that Breeders are almost always aware of imprinting. This is particularly relevant for familiarising kittens from an early age with the concept of human contact. Even if it is only for a few seconds, early hand-holding of week old kittens is very beneficial later on. The sense of smell in particular, is very acute in kittens. To them, all humans have common traits of smell. It quickly informs them that although we smell like carnivores, we are in fact only after a friendly and harmless cuddle. We become no threat to them if we get that contact in early.
So again, memory to cats is all about those three key emotions. The stronger that association, the longer the memory persists. It is believed that cats remember anything they choose to. It may even be all their lives. Not so different from us really J
For an interesting discussion on a cat’s ability to remember a previous family after being separated, this forum discussion makes for interesting reading here.
Memory – Cat Photography Melbourne