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girlofscience's avatar

How extensive are cats' long term memories?

Asked by girlofscience (7535points) July 27th, 2008

Even if its in bits and pieces, do cats have memories of their pasts? Specifically, in reference to my cat, I am wondering what parts of her life she has memories of. Here is her timeline: We found her outside on June 20, 2007, where she had been living in horrible conditions in the wild. (At that time, the vet determined her to be approximately one year old.) She then moved into our Philadelphia apartment, where she lived for the next year. On June 28, 2008, she moved with us to North Carolina. Now that she’s been here a month, does she remember ever living at the old apartment? Furthermore, does she remember her life in the wild, from over a year ago?

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15 Answers

Scrumpulator's avatar

My cat disappeared for two months and no one in the apartment replied to my fliers. Lo and Beheld, one day I heard a scratching at the door, the little shit was out side, skinny and had a cyst on its face. I took her back in loved her and fed her, and was at the vets the next day. I don’t know what it was doing out there, but it was no where to be found, so I guess they are long enough to know where a warm place and food are after two months. So memory of past… Yes. She found her way home.

marinelife's avatar

Mt cat Phaler remembered me whenever I came home to my parents. She would jump in my suitcase and sleep with me.

girlofscience's avatar

@Scrumpulator: So, do you think if we were to go back to our old apartment complex in Philly she would find the door of where we used to live? Even though we’re not in there? Or do you think it was the smell inside your door that your cat sensed to bring him/herself home?

@Marina: What was the longest you were ever away from your parents that you cat remembered you from?

Scrumpulator's avatar

I think It might be the smell mixed with the memory of your presence there. If you go back now (who goes back to Philly anyways?) I think your cat would remember, because it has only been about two months. And that was the amount of time mine was running wild no where to be seen before it came back, but not all cats are the same. I have met some pretty retarded animals in my day, and another from the same litter that could open cabnits and pull out cans of food, so who knows. They are as variant as people in cognitive and memory abilities.

augustlan's avatar

One of my cats hates to be picked up, and is very fearful even after 2 years with us. She was a pound kitten, a small mound of fur and bones when we got her. I suspect she remembers past abuse. Also, I once had a cat who accidentally go into the broiler (slightly burned and very singed). When I rescued her, I threw her in the shower… thereafter, she loved water. That one could also open closed doors, and the freezer, but that’s another story.

Scrumpulator's avatar

@augustlan, COOL. a cat that loves water. That is the coolest thing. Does it swim?

Harp's avatar

We have to distinguish here between “episodic” memory and “semantic” memory. Episodic memory is the recollection of discreet events from the past. Semantic memory is storage of facts about the world.

Many animals clearly posess semantic memory. When a cat remembers how to navigate home, and remembers what the door smells and looks like, it’s drawing on its semantic memory. That memory has no temporal context. For instance, the semantic memory conveys no sense of how long ago it last saw that door.

Episodic memory is the kind girlofscience is refering to when she asks ”...does she remember ever living at the old apartment? Furthermore, does she remember her life in the wild, from over a year ago?” It’s not, for instance, remembering the floorplan of your childhood home; it’s remembering what happened in that home, and that those things occured in the past.

There is some difference of scientific opinion on whether episodic memory is unique to humans, but there’s little evidence of it in other species thus far, so most researchers are reluctent to attribute it to animals. The most compelling evidence comes from studies of how scrub jays remember where they’ve hidden their food.

About cats in particular, I can’t find any pertinant research and can only assume that they’re simply too busy napping and hacking up hairballs to participate.

marinelife's avatar

For at least five years.

augustlan's avatar

@scrump…no, she never swam, but was always getting into the sink when the water was running, and playing in the bathtub after anyone took a shower.

AstroChuck's avatar

You ever walk into a room and forget why you went in? That’s how dogs live their lives. Cats always know why and where they are. I think they have memories like wives. They remember every little mistake you’ve ever made, like when you forgot to put food down or change the litterbox.

gailcalled's avatar

Now that Milo and I have been together for three months, I consider myself permitted to chime in. My daughter first left him w. a friend from Oct. to Apr. Then he was brought here (familiar territory), motorcycle escort and all. He and I lived cheek by jowl jaw for May and June. He slept on my bed, practically on me and was my shadow.

The first day that my daughter returned for a visit, in early June, Milo left me seduced and abandoned. When my daughter departed, several days later, he returned to the second-best bed with no shame and no apologies.

I see some definite patterns and daily routines….and M has certainly taught me how to behave, with very obvious tactics….AC said it best.

gailcalled's avatar

@Harp? Hairballs? Hairballs? You mean that there are still some surprises?

Harp's avatar

Oops, didn’t mean to spoil it

gailcalled's avatar

@Harp compared to Milo, my 93+yr old mother is easy.

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