You come home to find a big mess. The culprit: your cat. Before you can fully evaluate the problem created by your feline housemate, you scream at him. Your cat runs away while you feel guilty for your outburst.
Do cats hold grudges?
No, cats cannot hold grudges against their humans or even other cats. A grudge is a complex emotion felines are simply not capable of having.
If your cat exhibits bad behavior, say peeing on your bed, it does not necessarily mean that your cat plotted against you and waited for an opportune time to exact revenge on you.
It is natural for people to ascribe human emotions and actions to their pets. After all, many people treat and consider their pets like their babies.
What is a grudge?
To better understand why Fluffy cannot hold a grudge against you, it is vital to define what the term means exactly.
A grudge can be defined as a persistent feeling of resentment that arises from an action. To hold a grudge, your cat needs to have a fairly long memory to hold a persistent feeling. After all, if you cannot remember a slight that has been done to you, how else can you hold a grudge?
But what does science say about cat memories?
Do cats have long memories?
How long can your furry little pal hold a memory?
The capacity to remember can be broadly classified into two categories: working or short-term memory and long-term memory.
Working memory refers to how much information you can retain in a short time. On the other hand, long-term memory refers to your ability to retain information beyond the time that is considered to be short-term memory.
For example, if someone reads a short list to you, your short-term memory will be measured by your ability to remember and mention the items on the list. For long-term memory, a good example will be remembering the appearance of a person you have not seen for a long time.
According to studies, cats have poor working memories. If you show a cat his favorite toy but do not give it to him immediately, it will only take half a minute for him to completely forget about the toy.
As for the long-term memory of cats, the subject is still murky. Old studies indicate that cats have a long-term memory equivalent to just 16 hours. However, recent studies contest that idea, saying that the long-term memories of cats is only 10 minutes.
However, these recent studies are not conclusive because of the difficulties involved in working with cats.
But just like in humans, certain things are easier for cats to remember and forget. Usually, a cat will remember things that they associate with powerful emotions and situations like pain. Your cat will not remember most of his day-to-day activities. But when an incident involves pain, that even will be seared in his memory for a long time.
How cats react to powerful sensations
Remember the time you forgot to use the oven mitts when you were baking cookies? You almost got your hands seared. The next time you baked, you remembered to put on your oven mitts.
When a cat has a negative experience, either with you or another animal, he remembers it. But that does not necessarily mean that he is holding a grudge. Instead, he is simply exercising caution to avoid experiencing that negative event again.
In most situations, a cat is thinking of what will work to his best advantage, both as a predator and prey. Cats are naturally aloof and standoffish in the face of the uncertain because instinctively, they know that those will help them avoid getting into trouble.
More often than not, people use human terms in describing an animal’s action even if he is not capable of such a response.
The same concept applies when your cat gets into an altercation with one of the neighborhood cats. When two cats fight, the loser will remember the incident and avoid conflict with the other cat by avoiding the location of the fight.
Cats also remember how people treat them. If you have had a positive encounter with a cat, the next time you meet him, he will probably run toward you. But if a cat has a negative experience with a person, he is likely to run away from that person.
Do cats experience anger?
Although cats are incapable of holding grudges, they do experience a gamut of strong emotions, including anger. And it does not take much to anger your cat. Perhaps you picked him up without his permission or maybe you forgot to clean his litter box. The list can go on and on, as other cat owners will tell you.
An angry cat will exhibit a few behaviors toward you, including:
- Dilation of pupils
- Wagging and holding his tail low
- Arching the back
- Paw swiping
If your cat is angry, your best course of action is to leave him alone and allow his anger to simmer down. Otherwise, you risk hurting yourself and increasing your pet’s anxiety.
How to apologize to an angry cat
When you have angered your cat, the first and most important thing that you should do is determine what exactly you have done and not do that again. After that, if you want to apologize to your cat, you just have to wait for your pet to come to you. Go about your usual routine at home while talking to your cat.
Once your cat comes to you, talk to him in a pleasant tone. If your voice sounds angry, your pet will react in the same manner. It also helps if you pet your cat and offer him his favorite treats.
But what if none of these work? Your pet is likely in a state of chronic stress. And the best way to deal with that is to create a stable, enriching environment for your cat.
That starts by establishing and keeping a routine. It also helps to minimize overstimulation and keep your pet’s mind and body engaged through exercise and play. If none of these work, consider enlisting the aid of a feline behaviorist.
Can cats forget abuse?
Cats do not hold grudges because they are incapable of experiencing something as complex as that. Plus, it goes against their instinct of self-preservation to get angry at the person who provides for their needs.
But what about cats that have been abused? Do they remember their negative past experiences?
When a cat is abused, he is hurt on a deeply psychological level. When trauma is sustained for an indefinite period, it is inevitable for the cat to remember. In response to those experiences, a cat may act suspicious and wary of humans.
Although it is possible to rehabilitate a cat to trust humans, it is a long process that requires patience. And there is no guarantee for success.
Are cats capable of forgiving other felines?
That depends. If your cat got into a fight with another pet in your household, he probably has established a bond with that pet.
In this scenario, the bond between the two cats can be mended. In fact, it is natural for two cats to get into conflict. That is part and parcel of having two or more cats living together under the same roof.
But if the other cat is a stranger, your cat will probably avoid the other feline, especially if he lost the fight.
Your pet is not holding a grudge against you
You lost your temper. Your cat got upset with your outburst. That does not mean that your cat is holding a grudge and is secretly plotting revenge against you.
To put it succinctly, cats are incapable of holding a grudge. After some time, you can restore your relationship with your cat and go back to normal.
Image: istockphoto.com / nikkytok