Do Cats Forgive Or Forget?

Cats are often characterized as aloof and independent pets that don’t need much affection. However, cats actually have complex emotions and social needs. Like humans, cats can feel anger, sadness, fear, and happiness. They also form close bonds with their human and feline families.

When a cat has a negative experience, such as being startled or disciplined, they may exhibit signs of holding a grudge. However, many cats are capable of forgiving their owners after an apology through affection. Cats may not completely forget negative experiences, but their ability to forgive is a sign of their emotional depth.

Cats Have Emotions

Research shows that cats do experience various emotions, even if they express them differently than humans. According to this article, cats feel basic emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, frustration, affection, and anger. For example, when a cat is angry, it may swat, hiss, or run away. A fearful cat may cower or hide. A happy cat will purr, rub against people or objects, and relax.

Studies like this one demonstrate that cats have a general mental representation of the emotions of their social partners. Cats understand both feline and human emotions through vocalizations, facial expressions, and behavior. While they may not experience emotions exactly like humans do, it’s clear cats feel a range of emotions in their relationships with people and other cats.

Cats Form Social Bonds

Cats can form close attachments and social bonds with their owners similar to dogs. According to research from Oregon State University, cats display social flexibility and can form secure or insecure bonds with their owners just like human children form attachments with parents. Securely attached cats see their owner as a source of comfort and security, while insecurely attached cats do not.

Cats recognize their owners’ voice and respond to their name being called. They also recognize familiar faces. A cat’s attachment tends to be strongest with the person who interacts with them the most. Cats can form bonds with multiple family members in a household when socialized properly. Overall, research confirms cats do emotionally bond with their owners despite their reputation for aloofness.

Signs a Cat May Forgive

Once a cat feels its owner or other humans are no longer a threat, it may show signs it’s ready to move on from an unpleasant incident. Some indications a cat may be open to reestablishing trust include:

  • Returning for affection – After a conflict, if a cat voluntarily comes over to receive pets, rubs against legs, or jumps into a lap, this suggests forgiveness. Cats only seek out positive interactions when they feel secure, indicating they’re letting go of hard feelings (
  • Relaxed body language – A forgiving cat will display loose, elongated body postures. Their ears will be forward and tail held upright. Lack of hissing, growling, flattened ears or puffed fur also signal a cat feels at ease again (
  • Resuming normal activities – If a cat returns to its routine habits like napping in favorite spots, eating treats, or playing, this indicates restored trust. The cat likely feels comfortable and unthreatened enough to carry on as usual.

A cat exhibiting friendly, relaxed behaviors again instead of fear, aggression or avoidance is a positive sign they’ve moved past an upsetting incident with an owner. While cats may not forget entirely, signs of forgiveness suggest the cat feels safe and is ready to reestablish a positive bond.

Cats May Not Totally Forget

While cats have the capacity to forgive, they may not totally forget past incidents, especially traumatic events. Their strong memory allows cats to be cautious and wary after a negative experience. According to research, cats can remember information for years and recall events from the distant past (1).

If a cat has been abused, attacked by another animal, injured through punishment, or startled severely, the memory can linger. The cat may become skittish, fearful, or aggressive in situations that recall the original incident. For example, a cat that was yelled at for scratching furniture may avoid or attack if scolded in the future.

However, with patience, love, and positive reinforcement over time, the cat can overcome the bad memory and learn to trust again. But cats likely retain the memory within their long-term storage and remain vigilant. So even once a cat forgives, shadowy recollections of the past may shape its behavior and reactions moving forward.


Earning a Cat’s Forgiveness

If you’ve done something to upset your cat, the best way to earn their forgiveness is to first give them space, then provide affection without punishing them further. Cats tend to be sensitive and may need time to themselves to process their feelings after a negative interaction. It’s important not to force interactions or punish them during this period, as it will only reinforce the cat’s resentment.

According to wikiHow, you should allow your cat to retreat and be alone if they desire after an upsetting incident. Don’t attempt to hold, pet or pick up the cat. Let them calmly remove themselves from the situation. Give them a few hours or up to a day to self-soothe and recuperate.

After a cool down period, you can begin trying to reconnect with affectionate behaviors like treats, play time with toys, and gentle pets if welcomed. Speak to them in a soothing tone and let them know you are sorry and want to make amends. The key is being patient and not forcing interaction too soon. Allow them time to rebuild trust in you again. With consistent kindness, most cats will forgive past transgressions.

When Cats Hold Grudges

Some cats are more prone to holding grudges than others, especially after severe or repeated incidents. Cats that are shy, anxious, or slow to warm up to new people and situations seem to be the most likely to hold long-term grudges (Source). These personality types tend to have trouble moving past negative experiences and may continue to avoid or act aggressively toward someone long after an incident occurs. On the other hand, cats that are generally relaxed, confident, and sociable are less likely to hold grudges over isolated events.

Severe incidents like trauma, abandonment, or physical abuse can cause a cat to hold a grudge for months or even years. Repeated negative interactions, even minor ones like rough play or punishment, may also lead to accumulating resentment. Cats that don’t feel safe and secure in their environment have a harder time letting go of perceived slights (Source). While every cat is different, those with anxious temperaments that experience ongoing stressors seem most prone to clinging to grudges against people or other pets.

Overcoming Fear or Aggression

Cats showing fear or aggression often need slow, gradual reintroduction and positive reinforcement to overcome their negative responses. This retraining allows them to rebuild positive associations and trust. Go slowly, keeping interactions positive, and avoid scolding or punishment which can worsen fear.

Check with a veterinarian to rule out potential underlying medical issues like thyroid problems, pain, or cognitive decline which could contribute to aggression. Medication may help reduce anxiety during the retraining process. Use treats, play, catnip, or other motivators the cat responds well to. Gradually increase exposure to triggers from afar.

With patience, counterconditioning and dedicated training, it’s often possible to reduce a cat’s fear or aggression responses significantly. But progress takes regular effort over weeks or months. Working with both a vet and animal behaviorist can improve outcomes. Understanding a cat’s body language helps detect issues early before they escalate. While cats may not forget past trauma, they can learn to forgive with compassionate support.

Forgiveness Takes Time

Earning a cat’s forgiveness is a process that requires patience from cat owners. Cats are complex creatures with memories and emotions, so overcoming a cat’s grudge takes time. Be empathetic and don’t force interactions while your cat is still upset. With daily gentle care and affection, most cats will eventually forgive past wrongs.

According to experts, the process of a cat forgiving can take anywhere from 3 days to several weeks, depending on the offense and your cat’s unique personality (Source: Try to rebuild bonds through play, treats, and respecting your cat’s space. Don’t overwhelm your cat, but be consistent with care. In time, forgiveness is likely.

While cats have good long-term memory, their grudges are usually temporary if owners show true remorse and change behaviors. With continued love and patience, you can mend the relationship. Forgiveness takes time, so be understanding of your cat’s emotions.


Based on cats’ capacity for social bonds and emotional intelligence, it’s clear felines have the ability to forgive under the right circumstances. However, cats tend to have good memories, so total forgetfulness is unlikely. While some cats may hold grudges, especially after traumatic events, others can move past transgressions with time and trust.

Cats are complex creatures who experience a range of emotions. By being a consistent, caring companion and respecting a cat’s boundaries, humans can build strong bonds over time. With patience and compassion, it’s possible to regain a cat’s trust after incidents of fear or aggression. While cats have their own unique preferences and personalities, they generally respond best to gentle care and positive reinforcement.

In the end, a cat’s capacity for forgiveness depends on the individual animal, the relationship with their human, and the context of the situation. But by better understanding feline emotions and social behaviors, cat parents can learn to read cues, meet needs, and deepen their bond through care and trust.

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