Cat Memory & Learning

How Good Is a Cat’s Memory?

Cats have excellent memories. A lot of research has been done on cats’ memory. This body of research shows that there is little difference between reference material stored in the cats’ brains and humans’ brains. When compared to dogs, research has proven that cats have close to 200 times more retention.

Neurons are important in memory and learning, and cats have nearly twice the number of neurons that dogs have. The way that memories are encoded means that each neuron stores a part of a memory, and when the right combination of neurons is activated, the cat will recall a memory.

In the short-term, cats can remember things for about 16 hours. If it’s important enough for the cat to remember it later, the memory can last the rest of its life. Cats do a great deal of learning and remembering from 2–7 years of age, much like children and teenagers are learning machines. Cats must be socialized before they are 2. Just like humans, these early stages of life determine a great deal about what the cat will be like when they’re older.

For instance, if a cat isn’t around humans a lot when it is young, even if it is friendly and likes humans, it will not meow or vocalize to humans the way that kittens who are raised with humans will. I have a super cuddly cat who was a stray for his formative years, and he is just like our other cats except that he doesn’t meow.

Our 11-year-old female has lived with her littermate on and off over the years (he belongs to my sister, and we have shared houses on and off). Even when it’s been several years since they’ve seen each other, she and her brother always act like they were never apart. Cats seem to be able to remember their friends, whether it is another cat, a human, a dog, etc. for many years.

They also remember paths they have walked a lot in the past. They remember where to find food in a place where they have not been in 10 years. If it’s important to a cat, whether emotionally or a necessity, they will remember it.

Unfortunately, with a similar brain structure to humans comes the pitfalls. Elderly cats can be prone to dementia, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases. So it’s important to keep a cat active, and keep its mind engaged to guard against such ailments.

Side note: Although we sometimes compare qualities and physiology of cats to that of dogs, they are completely different animals, and it’s a lot like comparing an elephant to a giraffe. We here at LCD love dogs as well, and nothing we say should be used to try to prove that one is better or worse than the other. We are only using these comparisons to demonstrate that you can’t view cats and dogs the same way. They are very different.

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