How Much Do Rescue Cats Remember From Their Pasts?

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on March 6, 2018

Anyone who’s rescued a cat has experienced the unconditional love of a kitty who knows you gave them a second chance. They often come with their own quirks — which we love — but it’s hard to tell if some aspects of their personalities are genetic or remnants from a former life. Worse, they may have developed certain habits, anxieties, or phobias due to past trauma.

While we already know that animals can get traumatized from negative situations, most of us rescue pet parents wonder: what other pieces of their past might they remember?

As it turns out, cats can recall a lot. Animal Planet explains:

“Once attained, even if by accident or trial and error, most knowledge is retained for life, thanks to the cat’s excellent memory.”

They continue:

“All it takes is one face-to-face encounter with a growling dog to convince a feline that the entire canine species is best avoided forever. However, positive experiences are just as easily stored and recalled, particularly if they have to do with food or play.”

While you can take comfort in knowing that your kitty will remember you as their loved one and caretaker — even after returning from a vacation — our feline friends can also hold grudges, as well as grieve the loss of loved ones. If your kitty has ever lost a beloved human or animal companion, don’t underestimate their capacity for sadness and distress; the experience might even change them forever.

What’s more, Petful explains that some of a cat’s “memories” are deeply ingrained into their DNA. That’s why even domestic cats display some behaviors of their wild ancestors, like hunting, stalking, and hiding.

In short, cats can remember their pasts. No, they’re probably not reminiscing about playing with their litter mates or the day they received their favorite toy, but if your rescue kitty saw her former owner again, she’d probably react according to how she was treated.

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