Research Concludes Cat Memory as Good as Dogs’

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Cat memory is more than a Broadway song. It’s a fact according to new research.


It’s long been believed Fideaux is smarter than Fluffy, but new research questions the validity of the canine propaganda. Last year, a study published in Current Biology concluded that dogs remember some details of past experiences. A just-published study shows that cats, too, can access memories of past events and even recall some of the details.

Cats can recall memories

A team of Japanese scientists observed 49 volunteer domestic cats to determine whether or not they could remember which containers they’d already eaten from. Researchers let the cats explore open food bowls and eat from some containers before removing the kitties from the room. Fifteen minutes later, when the kitties returned to the room, they spent more time checking out the bowls they hadn’t yet emptied. The study, “Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats,” was published last week in the journal, Behavioral Processes. Scientists observed the kitties recall details of past experiences, and “utilize the ‘what’ and ‘where’ information.” The final conclusion: cats have episodic memory, meaning they can recall details of a specific experience. Episodic memory is associated with self-awareness.

Cat memory is no surprise to anyone who has set out a carrier prior to a vet trip or quicked a claw while trimming nails. Cosmo, a one-year-old Siamese-mix, had always cooperated whenever I trimmed his nails. That is until the afternoon I accidentally pinched his toe while cutting his nails. For the next 13 years he hid whenever I pulled out the the nail nippers. He never forgot that pinched toe. So cats recall traumatic or painful events, but what about pleasant experiences?

Cats may even be able to daydream. In tests about understanding human gestures and facial expressions the cats performed as well as dogs.

Better relationship is researchers’ goal

These experiments weren’t IQ tests, but rather an attempt to better understand how kitties store and retrieve memories of experiences. The researchers hope their conclusions will cat owners and their pets develop better relationships.

“Understanding cats more deeply helps to establish better cat-human relationships,” lead author Saho Takagi, a psychologist at Kyoto University, said in an interview with  BBC. “Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, as opposed to the common view of people that dogs are much smarter.”

Additionally she told BBC that cats performed comparably to dogs in tests about understanding human gestures and facial expressions.

So next time you watch the Broadway musical, Cats, and Grizabella sings about her glory days, remember that the aging puss may actually be able to recall details of what and where.

Tell me about your cat’s memory in the comments below.

About Dusty Rainbolt

Author Dusty Rainbolt is an award-winning veterinary journalist according to her answering machine. She is an associate certified cat behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as past president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Her books, columns, reviews and articles have been honored with more than 50 writing awards including three-time recipient of Friskies Writer of the Year. Her just-released cat behavior book, Cat Scene Investigator: Solve Your Cat’s Litter Box Mystery, is the consummate guide for dealing with a cat who sidesteps his/her appointed toilet. CSI, which provides science-based methods for determining the medical or behavioral causes of feline inappropriate elimination, teaches cat parents to view their cat’s litter box avoidance through the eyes of a detective to determine the cause and, ultimately, the remedy.

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on “Research Concludes Cat Memory as Good as Dogs’
2 Comments on “Research Concludes Cat Memory as Good as Dogs’
  1. In late 2006 we took in 2 cats from a family who could no longer keep them. Having said that, the wife and one of the sons has returned several time to visit them and, when the older one died of cancer, she was there with her.

    Each and every time they saw her, and this includes a surprise visit not all that long ago, mind you, this cat was born in 2002 and has been with us for over 10 years now, she was very excited to see her former owner.

    Nef, the cat, wasn’t the more cuddly of the pair, but since Tuti, the older cat, died, she has become much more cling-y. When her former owner showed up, she wanted to be held.

    Now, tell me that a cat who has lived with me for 10 years, after being with her previous person for 4 years, doesn’t remember her?

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