Can cats remember?

We’ve heard the saying about elephants and their memory, but what about our beloved cats? Can they remember? Personally, I’m afraid that my cat was not in line when brains were handed out and received the last one, leftover and not quite functional. She does manage to get to the litter box, but feeding time requires delivering her direct to the bowl or she circles your feet crying and crying like you actually would walk around the house carrying the cat food instead of leaving it in her bowl!

Researchers at University of Alberta actually did a research study to investigate the length of a cat’s memory. They compared memory length after performing a certain task or after simply seeing something in their path. How in the world did they do this you might wonder. I wondered the same thing. Actually, they placed in object in the path of the cat. To test how long the cat could remember the position of the object, they first allowed the cat to step over the object with their front feet but then stopped them before their back feet went over. They distracted the cat with a treat and then allowed it to proceed onward after varying lengths of time. They found that the cat lifted its back feet as if to step over the object (even if the researcher had taken the object away) up to the 10 minute mark. One conclusion that was made is that cats are so confident of their movements within the environment because they have a good memory of where their bodies have been.

So, how did the cats do if they saw the object but were not allowed to step over it? The cats were walked up to an object and then stopped. Their vision was obscured so that they could no longer see the object. The cats never stepped over the object, even if they were only momentarily stopped. So, the memory is directly related to the action of stepping over. Think of yourself stumbling back from the bathroom in the middle of the night, blinded by the light that you have just turned off. You may remember something was in your path, but if you are like me, you really have no idea where it was. Applications for this research include the study of individuals with memory loss and how actions may help improve the recovery of memory. If you want more info, click here to listen to the podcast from University of Alberta’s Express News.


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