At times, we all have to make decisions about our pets that are tough, but necessary. At other times, we do unfortunate things to our pets based on anger that we deeply regret. Do cats get mad at their owners? How your behavior can affect the relationship with your cat may leave you feeling a little puzzled at times.
Cats can hold grudges, but only for a short time. The average memory span of a cat is just 16 hours. The same fleeting memory allows cats to easily forgive you as they are unable to directly recall what has upset them once sufficient time has passed.
You need to understand the difference between associative memory and real memory. Although a cat’s active memory is relatively short, they do remember things long term by association. This is why your cat will never hold a week-long grudge but will associate an action with a negative or positive outcome.
Does your cat hate going to the vet? It may not be the vet they specifically hate, but rather the association of the pet carrier that appears whenever a vet trip is needed. The power of association is crucially important to a cat’s memory.
Are Cats Capable of Grudges and Forgiveness?
Cats are incapable of holding grudges and forgiving you in the same way that people do. It is impossible for a cat to recall the specific actions that led to a grudge, so they cannot forgive you.
Cats are also unable to forgive because they associate negative actions with sound, smell, taste, and feelings rather than the regrettable actions of a specific individual. “What” caused a negative emotion registers far more than “who” caused a negative emotion.
On a human level, we look at grudges as a specific wrong that can leave us with anger, bitterness, and a feeling of disrespect. Cats are unable to recall specific details in this way.
How Long is a Cat’s Memory?
Do cats forgive abuse? Are cats spiteful? The answer to these questions is connected to how long cats can recall information.
How long do cats remember things? The average memory span of a cat is 16 hours. For kittens, that time can be reduced to 60 minutes at the most, but older felines can potentially remember an entire day. Because the routine of life has been established, older cats can remember occurrences more vividly than kittens.
It is said that a cat’s brain (cerebral cortex) is similar to that of a human. This is proven by the way cats often remind their owners when it is time to take certain actions.
Cats often alert owners when it is time to eat, time to go outside, time to sleep, etc. This is also the reason why a cat, at least for 10+ hours, could be in a bad mood and hold somewhat of a grudge.
Although time is the great healer, cats, by nature, are forgiving. All it takes is a token of affection, such as a petting session, and your cat will return to purring and wanting your attention.
If you feel that your cat has negative feelings, you can erase them by engaging in positive behavior with your them. Getting a cat to forgive you can be as simple as showing them love and affection.
Real Memory vs. Associative Memory
Is my cat mad at me? The answer is likely to lie in the difference between real memory and associative memory.
Real memory is all about the here and now. Second to second. Hour by hour. These memories are fairly disposable, and your cat will forget them quickly if they have little significance.
Associative memory is what cats lean on. If your cat is holding a grudge, it is likely based on an associate memory rather than what is taking place at the moment. Associative memory is based on positive and negative triggers.
Unable to remember every detail of a prior engagement, cats can recall a specific visual, sound, or smell with a specific outcome. This would be similar to a person not remembering every detail of a college football game but associating the visual of a football with a happy memory.
If the trigger is negative, this is not an example of your cat holding a true grudge (in the human sense) but rather being reminded of a negative prior experience.
- PetMD notes that cats remember aspects of life that are directly related to food, survival and emotional impact. These memories are more likely to be stored in long-term (associative memory) than random passing events. Significant events are far more likely to impact your cat’s behavior for life permanently.
Noted below are some examples of associative memory and how it plays into the concept of grudges and forgiveness.
- The sound of plastic being associated with snack time. The association of plastic resulting in food can equate to all plastic sounds being associated with food. If your cat watches you go to the kitchen, it may not respond. If you rattle plastic, your cay may come running. Because this particular associative memory involves sound, any plastic can trigger the same response.
- Because cats associate an action with a result, associative memory can be both positive and negative. If your cat is sick and you place it on a table to administer medication, that behavior could become a negative associative memory. Meaning, each time you put your cat on a table, it may begin to kick and squirm. The association involves the table and an adverse outcome. Even though the cat may not remember the medication per se, it will likely associate being placed on the table with a negative occurrence.
- If you have taken your cat to the vet many times, they may not recall the experience, but it may recall the car as being a source of negativity. This is where associative memory can backfire because any future trips in the car, for even an enjoyable occasion, will be met with drama.
- Do you give verbal or sound cues when you want your cat to jump on the sofa for a petting session? If so, have you seen your cat stand at attention on the floor waiting for the cue? Associative memory is in play. While your cat may not remember every detail of prior enjoyment on the sofa, the sound of you tapping your leg or a verbal call to jump on the sofa is an associative trigger. Your cat associates this action with pleasure and comfort.
The best way to keep your cat from holding a short-term grudge with you is by establishing a positive associative memory to create positive real-time moments.
These moments should be complete with positive sounds, visuals, and smells. Your cat will recall that vital trio long after they have forgotten the specific engagement.
This is why it is vital to never frighten your cat for entertainment purposes, such as scaring your cat with a cucumber. Establishing a negative association can be incredibly difficult to break.
Do Cats Have Spiteful Behavior?
Some cat owners think their cat is engaging in spiteful behavior. Entirely different than holding a grudge and displaying depressed or negative behavior, the act of urination on clothing, clawing leather furniture, turning over food bowls can be viewed as a deliberate attempt to cause chaos.
Do cats get mad at their owners? Not in the literal sense. However, they are very sensitive and can react adversely when their needs are not met.
VetStreet.com has a detailed article regarding spiteful behavior and the notion that your cat is punishing you. Cats do not respond well to change and are easily stressed; cats are not capable of acting out of spite.
They are not able to form a plan against you and act out as a form of retaliation of perceived negative behavior on your part. Their odd behavior is a result of their turmoil and is not based on a personal attack.
Cats are creatures of habit. They remember emotions far better than they do specific occasions. This is why it is critical to negate bad experiences when possible. Associative memory will linger on long after real-time memory fades away.
Cats do not hold grudges, and they are not capable of true forgiveness. However, cats do hold negative and positive emotions based on previous triggers of association.