Do Cats Forget Their Owners In 3 Days

The claim that cats forget their owners after only 3 days apart has become a popular myth about our feline companions. As cat owners know, the relationship and bond we form with our cats can be extremely strong and special. The prospect that cats could sever that connection so quickly is troubling for any devoted cat parent. However, the good news is that this myth is simply not true. Cats do not forget their owners so rapidly. Like any urban legend, this myth has origins and reasons it continues to persist. By examining the evidence, science, and behavior of cats, we can debunk this myth and better understand the real bonds cats form with their human families.

The Claim: Cats Forget Owners in 3 Days

There is a persistent myth that cats forget their owners after only three days. This claim suggests that cats form only shallow bonds with their human families, quickly forgetting people after short separations. According to the myth, cats’ independent nature means they do not miss their owners for long once out of sight.

The origins of this myth are unclear, but it has spread widely on the internet and in popular culture, leading many cat owners to worry about whether their pet really loves them. The “three day rule” has become shorthand for the belief that cat relationships are fleeting and disposable.

In reality, there is no scientific evidence supporting this myth. On the contrary, research shows that cats can remember and recognize their owners even after long absences. While the saying “out of sight, out of mind” is sometimes true for cats, they do not completely forget owners after a mere three days apart.

Cats Form Attachments to People

Research shows that cats do form attachments and bonds with their human owners, similar to the attachments dogs and human children form. A 2019 study published in Current Biology found that cats display attachment behaviors toward their owners such as proximity seeking, separation distress, and greeting behaviors (Vitale et al., 2019). The researchers observed cat behaviors during brief separations and reunions with their owners and found that 64% of cats displayed behaviors indicative of secure attachment with their owners.

Another study from Oregon State University in 2019 also demonstrated that pet cats form attachments to their caregivers. The research found that cats alter their behavior when separated from their human attachment figure in a manner similar to dogs and human infants. Cats were more likely to vocalize when the owner left and explored less frequently during separation, suggesting distress (Beaver, 2019).

Cats Recognize Owners

Despite the myth, cats are able to recognize their owners in various ways. Studies have shown that cats can identify their owners by sight, sound, and scent.

Cats are able to recognize their owners’ faces. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Animal Cognition, cats spent more time looking at images of their owner’s face than at images of strangers. The ability to recognize faces is an important social skill in animals.

Research also indicates cats can recognize their owner’s voice. A 2022 study published in Nature found cats responded more frequently to audio clips of their owner’s voice compared to strangers’ voices. Their ears and heads moved more when hearing their owners.

Cats also rely on scent to identify familiar people. They have an advanced olfactory system and possess more odor receptors than humans. When a cat rubs against you, it transfers its scents and gathers yours, marking you as “safe.” This is a social bonding behavior and sign of affection.

Why the Myth Persists

Despite evidence that cats form strong bonds with their owners, the myth that cats forget their owners after 3 days continues to persist. There are a few key reasons for this:

First, cat behavior can sometimes appear aloof or indifferent compared to dogs. As solitary hunters, cats are more independent and less social than pack animals like dogs. While dogs eagerly greet their owners at the door, cats may show less visible excitement. Given their more subtle social signals, cats’ affection for their owners can be missed by people (The Hill, 2021).

Additionally, some human biases reinforce the myth. There is a common stereotype of cats as cold and uncaring. This stems in part from cultural biases, such as associations between cats and witches (BBC Future, 2019). People who believe the myth may interpret normal cat behavior to confirm their expectations of aloofness.

Lastly, cat rescues often warn new adopters that cats may take days to adjust to a new home. This period of adjustment then morphs into the myth that cats forget previous homes (PetCoach, 2021). In reality, this adjustment period represents cats acclimating to new surroundings, not forgetting previous attachments.

Cats Show Distress When Separated

Cats can exhibit signs of distress when separated from their owners for extended periods of time. This is often a result of separation anxiety. Some common symptoms of separation anxiety in cats include:

Excessive vocalization – Cats may meow, cry, or howl when their owner leaves or while they are away. This continuous vocalization is a sign they are distressed about being left alone [1].

Not eating or drinking normally – A cat with separation anxiety may eat or drink very little while their owner is gone because they are too anxious and upset [2].

Inappropriate urination – Anxious cats may urinate or defecate outside of the litter box while home alone. This is a common sign of distress [3].

Destructive behavior – Some stressed cats scratch furniture, chew objects, or show other destructive behaviors when separated from their owner [1].

Excessive attachment when owner returns – Cats with separation anxiety may show signs of extreme excitement or neediness when their owner comes back after an absence.

These behaviors indicate cats can feel real distress when left alone for long periods of time away from their attachment figure.

Cats Remember People Long Term

Despite the popular myth, cats do not forget their owners after only 3 days. Studies show that cats can remember individual humans and their experiences with them for years. A cat’s long-term memory has been found to last as much as 200 times as long as a dog’s.

Research conducted at the University of Tokyo found that cats could recognize their owners’ voices even after not hearing them for 5 years (Source 1). Another study showed that cats responded positively when reunited with previous caretakers after 2 years apart (Source 2).

These studies demonstrate that cats form strong bonds and attachments to their human companions that can persist for years. While the myth that cats forget quickly gives them an undeserved reputation for aloofness, the research makes clear that cats are capable of long-lasting relationships.

Keeping Your Cat’s Bond Strong

To maintain a close bond with your cat, here are some tips:

  • Spend quality one-on-one time together every day. Set aside 10-15 minutes for playtime, brushing, or lap cuddles.
  • Keep your cat’s schedule and routines consistent. Cats feel secure when their environment is stable.
  • Make sure your cat has adequate mental stimulation. Provide puzzle feeders, cat trees, toys, and windows with views to keep their mind engaged.
  • Speak to your cat in a calm, soothing voice. They recognize and respond to the emotional tones in your voice.
  • Gently pet your cat in their preferred areas. Most cats enjoy chin scratches, cheek rubs, and strokes down the back.
  • Give your cat their own safe space they can retreat to. Cats need alone time, so provide hiding spots and perches.
  • Consider clicker training. This positive reinforcement technique strengthens the bond through mutual understanding.
  • Respect your cat’s boundaries. Never force interactions or punish unwanted behavior. Build trust gradually.
  • Keep up with veterinary care. Annual exams and vaccines protect your cat’s health and longevity.

With daily affection, consistency, and sensitivity to their needs, you can build a lasting connection with your cat.

When to Be Concerned

While it’s normal for cats to have some benign memory issues as they age, there are certain signs of detachment or forgetfulness that warrant concern. These could be indicators of cognitive dysfunction or dementia in cats:

  • Consistently forgetting the location of resources like the litter box, food bowl, or their favorite resting spots (1, 2)
  • Acting anxious or distressed in familiar environments
  • Failing to recognize owners or respond to their name being called
  • Wandering or getting lost in the home
  • Disrupted sleep cycles or altered interactions at night
  • Excessive vocalization or crying
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Decreased interest in play, pets, or other forms of engagement
  • Appearing distant, irritable, or detached

If your cat is displaying one or more of these signs consistently, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian. There may be medical factors causing the changes in behavior and detachment. Early intervention can help manage dementia-like symptoms in cats and maintain their quality of life. Keep monitoring your cat’s behavior and bond with you. With care and affection, the connection can remain strong.


The myth that cats forget their owners after only three days apart has been soundly debunked. Cats form strong bonds with their owners that persist over time and distance. They recognize familiar faces, scents, and voices, showing excitement when reunited after separations. While cats are independent animals, they depend on their humans for food, shelter, affection, and environmental enrichment. Regular interaction, playtime, treats, and gentle caregiving maintain the cat-human connection.

Some key lessons are that cat memory and intelligence are often underestimated. Short-term separations do not erase the powerful cat-human bond. With time, patience, and care, people can build lifelong relationships with their feline companions. While cats may sometimes seem aloof, research shows their attachment and devotion to their owners.

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