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How Long Does a Cat Hold a Grudge?

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There’s still a lot to learn about cats, but researchers have been able to shed some light on the feline brain and memory. For instance, experts discovered that your kitty can recognize your voice. [1] And a study found that cats can recall information, indicating that they may have episodic memory. [2]  

Despite what scientists have reported, your kitty’s everyday behaviors might leave you guessing about what’s going on in their mind. And if you’ve ever done something to upset your cat, you might even wonder if they’re able to hold a grudge or feel resentful.

To get to the bottom of things, we spoke with three cat behaviorists who can help you better understand your pet’s reactions to positive and negative events. 

Do Cats Hold Grudges?

All of the experts we talked with agree: cats don’t hold grudges.

“When we think of a grudge from a human perspective, we mean that a person is holding onto long-term feelings of anger, resentment, or spite toward someone else. These types of emotions do not affect cat behaviors. Cats behave in a way that meets their instinctual needs to be safe; they do not act out of spite, revenge, or holding grudges,” says Rachel Geller, Ed.D., a cat behaviorist and founder/president of All Cats All the Time.

“Grudges are a human emotion and a human concept. Thinking of a cat as holding a grudge is anthropomorphizing, or applying human thinking to something that does not think like a human. Trying to apply human centered thinking like this not only harms the bond between human and cat, but also makes it much harder for humans to address unwanted behaviors in cats,” says Joey Lusvardi, an IAABC certified cat behavior consultant who runs Class Act Cats.

“For example, if your cat is peeing on your carpet whenever you return from vacation, you might think that they’re doing it to get revenge, out of spite, or because they’re mad at you. The more likely emotion is stress due to changes in the cat’s routine. By looking at it from a stress perspective, you can actually begin to take real, actionable steps to address the problem,” he adds.

Positive vs. Negative Associations

A cat’s behavior is influenced by positive and negative associations.

“Cats can develop negative associations – not resentment, which is a human emotion – toward people, other pets, or even inanimate objects. They do so based on past experience with a human or pet. For example, if a cat meets another cat and the other cat hisses, chases, and bites, they’re going to develop a fearful response to the other cat. If you yell at your cat or use a squirt bottle on them, they’re going to become fearful of you. That may create all sorts of other unwanted behaviors. Depending on the strength of the fear, these responses can be long-lasting,” says Lusvardi.

Geller agrees that cats can form positive and negative associations. “Cats have associative memories, so if you consistently do something positive or negative with a cat, [they] will develop an association with you and that action,” she says.   

Pet parents might mistake a negative association for a grudge. According to Daniel Warren-Cummings, the central behavior officer for Cats Protection, an example of this is a cat’s fear of being put in a pet carrier. While a kitty’s behavior might change because of the stress, if their relationship with their human is good, they’ll go back to normal once they feel at ease again. “The cat doesn’t hold grudges; the cat just knows that this particular thing was very stressful. If the next day you bring the carrier out again, the cat may show avoidance or fear-based behaviors, but it will specifically be in the context of the unpleasant stimulus, not because the cat has a grudge,” he says.  

How Long Does a Cat Hold a Grudge? A Look at Cat Memory

Although it might seem like your cat is holding a grudge, experts advise against applying human emotions to your furry companion. It’s best to consider your kitty’s behavior from a feline – not a human – perspective. However, just because your cat doesn’t hold a grudge doesn’t mean she doesn’t remember things.

How good is a cat’s memory? Short-term memory is believed to be about 16 hours, while long-term memory might last for many years, and perhaps the life of a cat.

According to Lusvardi, several factors can influence how long a cat will remember something, and some experiences can change a kitty’s behavior for the long run. “Particularly pleasant or aversive stimuli can cause life-long associations, and cats can display behavior changes as a consequence of events that happened years prior. I work with a lot of clients whose cats were, for example, mistreated or abused by someone, and they will still be fearful of anyone who has enough of a similarity to that individual. So, while there may be some memories that fade after 16 hours, your cat absolutely can remember things longer than that,” he says.

Changes in a Cat’s Behavior in the Short-Term

In addition to long-term changes, a cat might shift their behavior for a little while after a negative experience – but, again, this doesn’t mean they feel resentful.

All of the behaviorists we spoke with used the example of accidentally stepping on your cat’s tail. You might notice that your cat is on edge around you for a short time, but they aren’t holding a grudge; instead, they’re afraid you’ll step on their tail again and want to prevent another painful experience.

What Do Cats Remember?

“Cats are more likely to remember things that either cause strong pleasant emotional responses or strong negative emotional responses. They may also remember things that happen repeatedly over time,” says Lusvardi. “One of the biggest predictors of how well a cat remembers something is how strong the emotional response is.”

Warren-Cummings says cats will remember things that help them survive. This includes where they can get food and water and where they can hide when they feel threatened. He also says they’ll remember the good things that they like.   

Geller states that cats have spatial memory to remember where their things are throughout the house, and they can also remember people that they haven’t seen in a long time.

Signs Your Cat Might Be Mad at You

Understanding your cat’s body language can help you figure out what they’re feeling. While growling is an obvious sign that your kitty is uneasy, there are other things to look for, such as changes in the position of the ears or the movement of the tail.  

“Cats will display what we call distance increasing behaviors when they’re feeling fearful or stressed. These may include slinking or running away, trying to make themselves smaller, or walking around something that’s stressing them out. You may also note their pupils dilate, [their] ears go to the side or get pinned back, or that their tail begins thrashing,” says Lusvardi. 

Hissing and swiping are generally high-level indicators of fear,” adds Warren-Cummings. “If the cat is escalating to these behaviors, there is a good chance the owner has missed a lot of the lower-mid level body language cues.” 

How to Rebuild Your Bond With Your Cat

Okay, let’s say your cat is having a negative reaction to you. Do cats forgive? As discussed above, cats react to situations and learn from their experiences. By taking the right approach, you can prevent your kitty from creating negative associations with your family.

If you feel like there’s a wedge between you and your pet, and you need to rebuild or strengthen your bond, there are things you can do. Just remember to think like a cat. 

Identify the Issue

You can start by figuring out what’s causing your kitty to feel unhappy. “Once you identify what the stressor is, be it something you are doing or something in the environment, it is important to reduce the impact of the stressor,” says Warren-Cummings.

“Reflect on your own behavior. In most cases, cats are just exhibiting natural cat behaviors. We often are the ones who need to adjust our actions,” adds Lusvardi. 

Take Time to Bond

Lusvardi also recommends creating a positive association by doing things like giving your cat treats and playing with her. 

Geller agrees that interactive play can help create a strong bond while your kitty has fun. “For the play session to be beneficial, the cat needs to have multiple captures. She has to be able to successfully grab the toy in [their] mouth or in [their] paws. Sometimes, people get too carried away with keeping the toy out of the cat’s reach, and that just ends up adding to the cat’s frustration or tension.”

Don’t React Harshly

“I strongly recommend against any sort of punishment toward your cat,” says Lusvardi. “Using a squirt bottle, making loud noises, or yelling at your cat isn’t going to help them feel less fearful. Plus, they’re potentially going to develop a fearful association with you. That will only exacerbate the problem. Focus on addressing the cat’s needs and building up your relationship.” 

Consider Asking Professionals for Help

Consulting a veterinarian or pet behaviorist can be beneficial. “If you see a behavior change or behavior problem develop,” says Warren-Cummings, “it is important to have your cat checked by a veterinarian to rule out underlying medical issues. From there, consult a qualified behaviorist.” 


  1. Arnold, Carrie, “Your cat can recognize your voice. Yes, really.” National Geographic (2022 October). Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/your-cat-can-recognize-your-voice
  2. Takagi, Saho et al. “Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats.” Behavioural processes vol. 141,Pt 3 (2017): 267-272. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2016.12.014