Cats have excellent long-term memory and will remember people they have had a close association with for the rest of their lives. They will have positive feelings for those who fed and played with them, and those who hurt or mistreated them. This is why it takes a long time to build trust with a neglected or abused cat. Have no fear if you need to board your kitty for a few weeks or months as he will be pleased to see you when you return.
Short- and Long-Term Memory
Studies on training sessions have found that dogs have a memory span of around 5 minutes while cats retain information for about 16 hours, or about 200 times longer. This is comparable to the memory of a 2- to 3-year-old child. Their long-term memories are even more impressive. When reunited, they can remember human companions they previously had a close relationship with after many years, and possibly will remember them for life.
Senses That Trigger Memories
Cats use smells, sounds and taste to recognize people, and rely on these senses more than on their appearance. Your cat will recognize you with a new haircut, and will check you out thoroughly if you return home smelling different. Cats rub against you to put their scent on you as a sign they "own" you and you are part of their family. After many years your scent may have changed as you use different shampoos, deodorants and colognes. Your cat may need to hear your voice before he is sure it is you.
Cat Do Not Have Owners
There is a saying that cats have servants and not owners. Your cat may not know you were his owner if he was always fed by your daughter. If you did not play an important role in his life and you simply lived in the same house, there is a possibility that he would not remember you years later, but would remember your daughter. You have to make an emotional impact on a cat for him to remember you years later.
There are many stories about cats who travel long distances and endure terrible conditions to return to a place that used to be their home. Although it is not known for sure why they do it, the most logical reason is to reunite with the people they cared about, suggesting their memories are strong. Unfortunately, some older cats will develop feline cognitive dysfunction, which is a cat version of Alzheimer's.