In 2015, Kunkush the cat boarded a boat in Lesbos Greece with his human family, which was fleeing violence in Iraq. Somehow, Kunkush got separated from his family in Greece. Despite their frantic, hours-long search, the family couldn't find Kunkush.
They had to go on to their final destination somewhere in Europe without him.
Days later, Greek fishermen found Kunkush, but no one had any idea who his family was or where they were. Volunteers and givers banded together first to keep Kunkush alive and second to locate his family.
Months of searching finally led them to the overjoyed Iraqi family now living in Norway. When Kunkush saw and heard his family for the first time in months on a Skype call, he kept checking behind the laptop to see if they were there.
Despite everything, Kunkush the cat remembered his human family.
You can read Kunkush's story in Kunkush: The True Story of a Refugee Catby Marne Ventura. It's a heartwarming tale, and like many other such stories, it makes us ask the question: How much do our pets remember?
Do cats remember people?
Cats possess excellent long-term memories. They can recall their animal companions and the people who feed them as well as those who irritate them. Memory is what allows a cat to leap into the arms of a family member returning after a semester away at college. Conversely, it's what lets a cat hold a grudge like there's no tomorrow. Memory also means cats grieve for other companion animals who pass away, family members who move out, and other losses in life.
Although studies show that a cat's long-term memory may last as much as 200 times as long as a dog's, cats are highly selective about what they remember. Basically, cats recall only what benefits them.
Typically, dogs do a better job of remembering their people than cats do, even recalling family members who've been away for years in military service. Scientists know for sure that cats can recognize and differentiate between human faces, though, so dogs' superior ability to remember people probably has more to do with their longer association with humans than with their brainpower.
Do cats remember abuse?
If your rescue cat is struggling with behavioral issues, it might not be due to stubborness or spitefulness. Instead, your new pet may be dealing with the aftermath of abuse. You may notice your cat reacts negatively to certain scents, sights, or other stimulations. He or she may run from men with beards, for example, or lash out at women who wear a certain scent. In these cases, your cat could associate the sight or smell with a negative past memory. Talk to your vet or feline behaviorist about how to help your cat if you think he or she has been the victim of abuse.
Do cats remember other cats?
Yes, cats can remember other cats though experts aren't sure for how long. Early in life, littermates exchange scents to recognize each other should they get separated. Cats use this same trick throughout their lifetimes. Probably, a cat's memory of another cat depends on the length and impact of the two animals' relationship.
Like dogs and many other animals, cats possess some kind of homing instinct, but often, a lost cat gets trapped, injured, or otherwise unable to return home. In some cases, their homing instinct is recentered after a move, so cats try to find their way back to their old homes only to get hopelessly lost.
Even though some cats pull extraordinary feats to reach home from far away, most lost cats don't make it very long. Also, cats often miss their previous owners when rehomed and try to find their way back. If you've just moved or taken in a new cat, keep a sharp eye on him for the first three weeks or so until he gets settled in his new place.
Do senior cats experience memory loss?
A cat's memory declines with age. Senior cats lose brain cells as they get older, which means it's important to feed your cat foods that are high in antioxidants and packed with omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help slow the brain's deterioration.
Still, about half of cats aged 11-15 and 80% of those aged 16-20 suffer from feline cognitive dysfunction. This disease affects the brain differently from the way dementia attacks the human and canine brains, but the results are much the same.
If your cat appears to be losing her memory, do some research on feline cognitive dysfunction and talk to a vet who specializes in cats. You can extend your cat's life and make her golden years happier with a few modifications.
A cat has the memory of an elephant. Don't believe us? Try using the can opener in the kitchen and see if your feline friend doesn't remember that sound and come running!