The Cat Brain: What Do They Remember?

Have you ever wondered about the cat brain and its memory capabilities? Have you scolded him one day for getting into some sort of mischief but then find him right back at it the next day? Can your cat remember anything at all?

cat brain

Sure, cats can leave us frustrated at times when trying to train them – as they notoriously have a mind of their own, but they do excel in one regard: their long-term memory capabilities.

The Cat Brain Is Very Similar To Ours

Despite the cat brain being smaller than that of humans, it is quite similar to yours. Just like a human brain, his consists of the frontal, temporal, occipital and parietal lobes. It is also comprised of copious white and gray matter. Even the same five senses transmit pertinent information to his brain.

How Cats Remember

So, how does a cat remember things?  According to, this ability stems from something scientific called neural combination theory. The cat brain has many neurons and each one stores a part of a memory. When the right combination of neurons is activated, that is when your cat’s memory will kick in.

Cat’s Short and Long-Term Memory Capabilities

Regarding short-term memory capabilities, cats outperform dogs. Cats can recall things for about 16 hours compared to just five minutes for a dog. (And, no, a cat is not writing this trying to brag!) A cat’s long-term memory is even more powerful. Although he might save just a few people or places into that category, he can remember them for years. Cats can actually remember certain people or places nearly all of his life!!!

In reality, a cat’s memory and decision making abilities are similar to those of a preschool-aged child. Cats learn by observation and can even learn how to open a door simply by watching you do it. From his mom he will learn how to groom himself and he can also solve puzzles, as noted when he pounces from one object to another to reach his destination at the top of the fridge!

Cognitive Dysfunction In Cats

However, as a cat ages, his brain function will also decline. In fact, feline cognitive dysfunction is akin to Alzheimer’s in humans. The brain will actually deteriorate, resulting in reduced cognitive functioning. This will be evidenced in his inability to navigate his surroundings successfully, as he may become disoriented.

He may also have accidents outside of the litter box, as he might forget its location or even what it’s for. Consider adding additional litter boxes in various spots around the house.

Anti-social behavior may emerge and he may just prefer to spend appreciable amounts of time alone.  Just as with humans, his memory won’t be as sharp as it was when he was just a young kitty.

Do Cats Remember Positive and Negative Experienes?

Overall, cats remember positive experiences just as well as negative ones. If he encounters a vicious dog, he will conclude that all dogs are that way and will most likely keep his distance from the canine kind.

However, positive experiences are just as impactful.  If your cat enjoys a favorable experience, especially if food or play is a part of the equation, he will remember that experience for life. Most knowledge that is once attained by a cat will remain in his memory bank for life.

What have you observed with your own cat?  Does he seem to recall events from the past or is his recollection of things a bit fuzzy or even non-existent?  Does he, like many of us humans do, walk into a certain room and then appear to forget why he went in there?







Written by Ann Butenas

Ann Butenas

An internationally-recognized author and writer, Ann began her professional writing career at age 12 and began speaking while in college. She has been published thousands of times over the past three decades in all media forms, was former editor and publisher of KC Metro Woman magazine, and has also hosted three talk radio shows in the Kansas City area.

25 Responses to "The Cat Brain: What Do They Remember?"

  1. This is SO interesting! I had no idea that cats’ memories were so much more developed than dogs’. I bet that their abilities to retain memories for such a long time has a lot to do with how well they can survive on their own. Their instincts and memories serve them so well when necessary. Dogs are so much more dependent on their humans. Great post!

    1. This is a really great point.

      In nature, a cat is a solitary predator. It had better remember what methods were successful when hunting and which weren’t in order to survive. And to take it one step further, a cat that remembers successful survival methods passes those genes on to the next generation.

      Dogs are pack animals. It might not be as important for a single animal to remember certain events. Maybe the collective pack memory can make the whole group successful.

  2. This is a great article with very interesting information! Cats are just so smart. I’ve definitely see the learning-by-observation in action with my cats. 🙂

  3. Such an interesting topic! I LOVE how the brain processes and it’s amazing just how similar some aspects really are!

  4. It’s always interesting to get a peek into our four-legged friends’ minds. I think it only makes sense for any animal to remember both positive and negative experiences. That’s what helps survival. I helps to direct future decisions.

  5. I always had an affinity for cats and this is just another reason why. I had no idea cats retain memory for as much as 16 hours but I believe it. Before my cat passed, I remember observing many of the things you pointed out. She was a big time observer and very intelligent. Towards the end of her life her balance in jumping on the bed was a little off. She was ill and definitely in her geriatric years. Best times of my life though. Cats often get a bad wrap, but they are awesome!

  6. I don’t have much experience with cats, but I know my dogs remember people that they haven’t seen in a really long time. I can’t really tell if my cat recognizes people that he hasn’t seen in a long time or not.

  7. Very interesting. I’ve always suspected cats are pretty smart. I remember one of our cats who would always try to sneak down into the basement when the door was open. Before she’d try to go down, she’d look around to see if anyone was looking.

  8. My cats most certainly remember things! They are too smart for their own good. Dexter has figured out how to open all of the cabinets in my apartment. We put a 20 lb dumbell in front of one of the folding pantry doors and he is already beginning to figure out how to move it out of the way. Both of the cats know my typical schedule better than I do. They definitely remember different people that they’ve met. If my husband’s uncle, Dennis, is over the cats will both surround him because they know he is an easy touch when it comes to food. It is really sad how much time I put into finding ways to outsmart my cats. MOL

  9. This is so interesting, I’ve never thought about a cat’s memory before! But, as I have a cat on his third owner I always wonder what he remembers. One thing is I don’t think he likes it when we are on the phone or computer, I think that’s because his last mom (a well known social media vet) was on them a lot and he knows they take attention away from him. But over all he’s really smart and knows his way around, and he learned how to use the cat/dog door by watching Dolly use it (Taffy not).

    1. Cats are very good at learning by observing. That’s how they learn to open doors, for one example. As you’ve pointed out, they also learn from their cat & dog siblings. It’s been my experience that what they learn, though, are the bad behaviors

  10. What a great article! I always suspected my cats in the past had incredible memory but never knew just how much. It makes you wonder though when they’re repeating those behaviors you know they know they shouldn’t do, how much are they laughing at us, haha

  11. Mr. N has a very good memory. There used to be a dog that would slam itself against a store door every time he saw Mr. N and after that dog moved away, for six months afterwards he would keep checking that door when we went by.

  12. Cats are amazing creatures and so very intelligent! I’m not at all surprised to read that they have great memory capabilities as well. I think my cats are definitely good at remembering people. It’s nice to know that they will (hopefully) remember me for their whole lives! 🙂

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