Questioning if cats hold grudges is akin to asking the same question about humans. Every cat has its own personality. Some cats are laid-back and playful, others are more cautious, unforgiving and cantankerous.
If your cat trusts you, it won’t hold a grudge. An apology/treat after stepping on a cat’s tail will mean that your actions will soon be forgotten. Cats have long memories when it comes to repeated mistreatment and abuse. A cat will forgive another cat that it knows, but there will always be hostility between two unfamiliar stray cats.
It’s important to get your cat into a regular, reliable routine. This will help to build trust between the owner and cat. In addition, learn to identify the signs that your cat is upset with you. Knowing when and how to apologize makes a harmonious relationship easier to achieve.
Table of Contents:
Do Cats Forgive and Forget?
Many people mistakenly believe that cats never forgive you. A cat eliminating on a bed is seen as an act of vengeance, but this is not the case. Cats do not hold grudges or plot revenge in this way.
Applied Animal Science Behavior tested cat reactions to being restrained against their will in a veterinary surgery. Cats did not avoid particular people or areas afterward. A one-off bad experience does not result in a grudge.
Despite this, cats have good memories when it comes to physical or mental trauma. Cats are driven by survival instinct. Anything that jars with these instincts will linger long in a cat’s memory. The cat will do whatever it can to avoid repeat exposure.
This becomes most prominent when a cat enters a conflict. Cats remember which neighborhood felines are friendly, and which are bullies. If your cat is attacked in a particular street, it will avoid that street in the future. This is an act of self-preservation.
The same applies to human-cat relationships. Cats remember who treats them well, and who treats them poorly. A cat will invariably approach the former and avoid the latter. This is not the cat holding a grudge. It is merely keeping itself safe.
This is not to say that cats do not grow angry or resentful. Cats feel a range of complex emotions. As Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice explains, negative emotions usually stem from stress as an angry cat is typically an anxious cat.
If you anger your cat, you must work to calm it down and make amends. Leaving the cat to stew in its own fury will aggravate stress. This, in turn, will lead to a range of behavioral issues. Your cat is not holding a grudge. It is just scared of you, and by extension, feeling annoyed.
Is My Cat Mad at Me?
Cats are comparatively easy to upset. This is likeliest when you act against your cat’s wishes. Cat behavior can seem impenetrable and random, but cats communicate clearly using body language. As an owner, you must learn these signs and signals.
Learn if your cat is angry with you. The typical warnings of this include:
- Avoiding you, opting to hide, or leave the room when you enter
- Rapidly swishing tail, especially when held low
- Ears held low and flat against the head
- Staring with dilated pupils
- Puffing up the tail and arching the back
- Growling or hissing
- Swiping with paws
If you observe any of these behaviors, you should give your cat space. Back away and let your cat calm down. You can worry about apologizing later.
Take this period of separation to reflect on why your cat is annoyed with you. It’s imperative that you understand what you did, to avoid repeating the mistake in the future. Your cat’s anger will be linked to stress. You must avoid increasing this anxiety.
How Did I Upset My Cat?
Owning a cat can be a minefield. You are almost certain to upset your cat at one time or another. This is why it is so important to build a bond. If your cat trusts you, it will cool off faster.
Do not assume that senior cats mellow with age. In truth, older cats are easier to anger than younger felines. Senior cats are likely hiding a range of age-related aches and pains from you. This can make them increasingly cranky. Common ways that you will anger your cat include:
- Handling without permission (some cats hate being picked up)
- Touching delicate skin (belly, paw pads, etc)
- Causing physical pain (i.e. accidentally stepping on tail)
- Petting to excess
- Moving furniture
- Entering a cat’s territory uninvited
- Making unnecessary noise
- Disturbing a cat during sleep
- Failing to clean up the litter box
- Leaving the cat alone for hours at a time
- Failing to meet expectations of routine in play or feeding time
- Providing no stimulus, or not changing toys regularly
- Ignoring requests for attention
- Providing attention to other pets
It’s equally possible that you have not personally angered your cat at all. Cats experience what is known as, “redirected aggression.” Your cat could be frustrated through no fault of yours. Unfortunately, you may still bear the brunt of your cat’s temper.
In this instance, the cat will approach you to apologize afterward. Ordinarily, it’s safer to assume that you are in the wrong and apologize. Swallowing pride is the fastest way to achieve unity in your relationship with your cat.
Apologizing to a Cat
When you wish to make amends with a cat, you must wait for the cat to approach you. The anxiety and nerves of the cat will dominate its behavior. Until the cat has cooled off, it will remain vigilant and aggressive.
You can encourage this by maintaining your business and ensuring that you verbalize regularly. Cats recognize their owners by voice. Your cat will hear you and respond. When the cat is ready to approach, it will do so.
When your cat comes to you, react in a calm, friendly manner. As Animal Cognition explains, cats respond to human vocal and facial cues. If you scowl or speak in an agitated tone, the cat will respond in kind. Smile and use a calm, friendly voice. Speaking in a higher pitch than usual will help.
When you’re ready to repair your relationship, it is a three-step process:
- Gently pet your cat
- Reward your cat with a favorite treat
- Give your cat focused one-on-one attention
My Cat Will Not Forgive Me
If your cat seems unwilling to forgive, remaining fearful or aggressive, it is not holding a grudge. You may be repeating the unwelcome behavior, leading to a constant cycle of new anger. Alternatively, something in the cat’s environment could be causing stress.
Focus on providing a calm, enriching environment for your cat. This includes:
- Familiar and unchanging routine
- Calming scents in the home
- Minimal exposure to unnecessary noise or stimulus
- Plenty of entertainment, including a rotation of toys
- Regular company and attention
- Private territory for the cat to relax in
If none of this helps, consider talking to a professional behaviorist. Your cat may have a chronic anxiety condition. Alternatively, it may be retaining fears and habits from the past. Training will be required to move past this.
Cats don’t hold grudges, and will usually forgive and forget one-off incidents. They want to forgive human transgressions as an act of self-preservation, as much as anything else.
Make this easier for your cat by providing a welcoming, comforting environment. A relaxed, confident cat will have little reason to grow angry. Coupled with moderating your own behavior, this will lead to a harmonious living arrangement.
Do Cats Forgive Abuse?
If a cat has been systematically abused, it will likely be psychologically scarred. Extremely traumatic events form part of a cat’s long-term memory. These tend to stay with a cat forever. The cat will certainly never forget its ordeal. It is possible that a cat may forgive abuse, given enough time.
Cats do not assume that humans are friendly until shown otherwise. A cat will have an innate suspicion of humans. Abuse will magnify this issue.
The cat will avoid its abuser, and potentially anybody that reminds the cat of them. This reminder will be triggered by the senses. Anything your cat associates with its abuser can trigger negative associations, such as a perfume/cologne, item of clothing, or tone of voice.
Rebuilding a relationship with an abused cat involves letting the cat call the shots. The cat will be jittery, and seemingly afraid of everything. This cannot be fixed by human behavior. The cat needs to rebuild confidence. Only then will the cat begin acting ‘normal’ again.
If you treat the cat well, and follow a strict routine, it may slowly but surely forgive. This is not a guarantee. Some cats are so traumatized that they cannot look beyond past experiences. Others will steadily come to a wary sense of truce.
Do Cats Forgive Other Cats?
Cats fight among themselves all the time. As cats are so territorial, conflict is in their nature. Cats go from friends to mortal enemies, and back again, several times per week.
Inter-cat forgiveness depends on how serious the falling out was. Most cats will avoid fighting, if possible. Cats will display a range of warning signs, using body language. In a best-case scenario, this avoids physicality.
Sadly, cats are also stubborn. Walking away in the face of provocation is seen as a sign of weakness. The cat will cede territory, and dominant status. As a result, neither cat will want to back down. Eventually, this leads to a physical confrontation.
Both cats will claw and bite, hoping to end the conflict as quickly as possible. If one cat is seriously hurt, it will remember this. This means the cat will avoid the other feline, at least for a while.
Cats with a pre-existing bond are likelier to forgive each other after a fight. The cats will accept that territorial squabbles are part of their life. This means that cats can co-exist in the home, despite any occasional conflict.
If two stray cats fight on their first meeting, they are unlikely to ever be friends. The cats have just one memory and association with each other – pain and conflict. But two domesticated house cats don’t hold grudges.