Is my cat going to remember me when I come back from college in three months' time?

The woman asked the following: Do cats forget their owners? I’m leaving my cat for three months cause I’m going to college and I’m gonna miss him so much:,) is he going to remember me when I’m back?

Is my cat going to remember me when I come back from college in three months' time?
This is the loved cat. Photo: u/Cloutlordcatto on Reddit.com

She asked the question on the Reddit.com website. My response to her question is as follows:

Provided that you have a very good relationship with your cat (you clearly have), he will remember you immediately you talk to him because he'll remember your voice and he will be pleased to meet you again. I can guarantee it. Domestic cats have good long-term memories. There are stories of cats remembering their owners when reunited after years apart. The link below goes to an article which I wrote some time ago about the long-term memory of domestic cats. Cats have good long-term memory. He is a super-looking cat by the way. Good luck at college.

Perhaps the obvious point to make is this: there is no reason why cats should not have decent memories. Anatomically speaking domestic cats are very similar to humans. You will not have to go far on the Internet to find stories of cats remembering their owners after being separated for months. 

And, of course, domestic cats need memories in order to 'survive'. Their ability to form memory comes from their wild cat ancestor. The North African wildcat, needs the ability to form memories in order to survive by, for example, avoiding places and animals which are hazardous to it. Domestic cats can for example smell the fading scent of urine that has been deposited by another cat as a marker on their territory. In order to make this work they have to be able to memorise the previous scent to make a comparison.

And, of course, cats allowed outside remember their home range. They remember the markers and major objects in their territory. They remember cats coming into their territory. And of course, they remember visitors to their home, often by the body odour of the visitor. Once a domestic cat knows that a stranger is safe, they will attach the body odour of the person to the knowledge that they are safe. When the person visits again even months later, they will smell the person and recognise them through their body odour.

And sometimes cats been missing for years and are finally reunited with their owner because of a microchip in their neck. And when they go up to their owner, they show through their behaviour that they recognise them. And they settle in to their old home within minutes. It is as if they never left so, yes, domestic cats have good long-term memories and it makes sense that they do.

On a personal level, years ago, I left my then female cat at a boarding cattery when I went to America to do some research on cats and when I came back, she recognised me immediately. She recognised my voice before she saw me. This was entirely expected. I had been away for two weeks.

Quick update: I have just bumped into a study which talks about cat short-term memory. It's interesting for this reason: when cats walk through and over obstacles, they have to memorise the positioning of those obstacles to allow their hind legs to avoid them. And you may have seen those astonishing videos on TikTok of cats navigating many obstacles placed in a corridor. They walk through these obstacles without knocking any of them over. They are employing their short-term memory to prevent their hind legs making contact with the obstacles which are quite close together.

I have written about domestic cat working memory. CLICK HERE TO READ IT IF YOU WISH.

I would be pleased if you would share your experiences of your cat's powers of long-term memory!

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I have been trying to find out how memory in a person or cat's brain works. I'm not sure that people know precisely how it does work. The answers that I have found on the Internet are rather vague. But one scientist says that "long-term memories must literally be built into the brain's synapses". Synapses are those areas where neurons are connected. They say that to build a memory which can last years, neurons must manufacture new proteins and expand the docks, as it were, to make the transmitter travelling run more efficiently".

The University of Queensland Australia, says that "Memory is the reactivation of a specific group of neurons, formed from persistent changes in the strength of connections between neurons". It seems, therefore, to me, that memories are embedded into neurons perhaps in protein molecules and the memory is recalled when the neuron is reactivated. I am simply interpreting what I read and don't take what I state as verbatim truth!

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