Do Cats Remember When You Yell At Them?

Unraveling the Mystery of Your Cat’s Memory

As cat owners, we’ve all wondered if our furry friends remember those times we’ve raised our voices in frustration. Do they take it personally? Hold a grudge? Or do cats simply move on without a care, as many believe? The truth lies somewhere in between thanks to our feline companions’ unique memory capacities.

While not perfect, cats do have excellent memories in many regards. They remember which bowl belongs to them, where their litter box is, and even seem to recall past experiences to inform future behaviors. But when it comes to associating yelled words with their meaning, cats come up short due to relying more on tone, body language, and facial expressions.

Join me today in exploring the nuances of cats’ memory and how yelling affects their perceptions. You may be surprised just how much your cat recalls and how a few simple changes can lead to more harmonic relations.

Cats Have Excellent Memories

Cats have impressive cognitive abilities and excellent memories. Studies show cats can remember learned behaviors and past experiences over long periods of time. For example, research from Japan found cats could remember which of two items they had already investigated and avoid re-examining it five minutes later (1). This demonstrates they have an episodic-like memory similar to humans and dogs.

Cats also possess strong spatial memory that helps them effectively navigate environments and remember locations. According to a study published in Animal Cognition, cats performed well on maze tests requiring them to recall the quickest route to exit a maze they had previously explored (2). Their spatial memory persisted even after delays of 30 minutes or longer.

Additional research on cat cognition indicates their memories extend well beyond just spatial abilities. Cats appear capable of drawing on past experiences to inform current behaviors and decisions (3). So if a cat has previously received scolding or punishment in a certain context, they may associate yelling with that negative interaction. Overall, studies confirm cats have excellent long-term memory for details relevant to their lives.


Cats Recall Positive Interactions

Cats have excellent memories, especially for positive experiences and rewards. According to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, cats remember affection, playtime, and food rewards (source). When a cat receives positive reinforcement like petting, toys, or treats for behavior like using the litter box or scratching acceptable surfaces, the cat is more likely to repeat that behavior. The American Association of Feline Practitioners states that positive reinforcement increases desired behaviors in cats (source).

Research shows that cats respond better to rewards and encouragement rather than punishment or scolding. So if you want your cat to repeat or continue a certain behavior, use positive reinforcement like treats, play, and affection. This will help create more pleasant memories and associations for your cat.

Cats May Link Yelling with Past Events

Yelling can startle cats, and they may associate it with negative past experiences, even if the yelling is not specifically directed at them (source: Loud voices and angry tones can trigger fearful reactions, as cats may relate the yelling to previous traumatic events or punishment. However, it’s unclear whether cats fully understand cause and effect when it comes to yelling. They may associate the yelling with something they did in the past, but not necessarily connect it to their current actions or behavior.

Effect of Tone Over Words

Cats are very sensitive to tone, and respond more to the tone of a human’s voice rather than the specific words being said. According to research conducted at Université Paris Nanterre, cats exhibit different behaviors when they hear human speech directed at them versus speech not directed at them, indicating they can distinguish tone and intention (source). This suggests cats pay attention to more than just the words we say.

When a human yells at a cat in an angry or threatening tone, this frightens the cat due to their strong hearing and sensitivity to frequencies. The loud volume and angry tone triggers the cat’s innate fight-or-flight response. So even if the words being yelled aren’t inherently scary, an aggressive tone provokes a fear response. Cats have no way to understand the exact meaning behind yelled words, but pick up on anger or hostility through tone. Yelling angrily at a cat is counterproductive, as they will mainly recall the fearful tone, not the intended message behind the words.

Redirecting After Yelling

After yelling at a cat, it is important to redirect their energy into more positive behavior. Rather than dwelling on the scolding, engaging in play can shift the cat’s focus. The ASPCA recommends using toys, treats or affection as a reward after any punishment to reinforce the preferred behavior. Cats respond better to positive reinforcement than negative feedback.

For example, if a cat jumps on the kitchen counter, firmly say “no” and remove them from the counter. Then immediately transition to dangling a toy or giving a treat. This shows the cat where they should direct their energy instead. The key is to be consistent so the cat associates the counter with ending playtime.

While cats may temporarily react poorly to yelling, redirecting with affection can still rebuild the bond with their human. As stated by the Humane Society, “While cats don’t understand discipline like people do, they can learn to associate your displeasure with their undesirable behavior.” Staying calm but firm when giving commands, while pairing any scolding with love, is the most effective approach.

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, “Redirecting her attention to something else is a great way of reinforcing good behaviors and stopping bad behaviors.” With consistency and patience, yelling can be avoided in favor of redirection.

Other Communication Strategies

Using positive reinforcement, treats and pheromones can help inform a cat about wanted behaviors instead of just punishing unwanted behaviors (1). Ignoring unwanted behaviors and only rewarding desired ones is key to cat training. Consistency shapes cats’ behaviors so it’s important to stick with ignoring unwanted behaviors and reinforcing good ones during each interaction (2).



When to Get Help

Persistent behavior issues, like consistent scratching or spraying outside the litter box, may indicate an underlying medical problem. In these cases, it’s important to schedule a veterinarian exam. Medical issues like urinary tract infections or arthritis can cause pain and distress that leads to undesirable behaviors.

If the veterinarian gives your cat a clean bill of health, the next step is consulting a professional cat behaviorist. Look for a certified behavior consultant who specializes in cats. An experienced cat behaviorist can observe your cat and correctly interpret subtle body language cues. They can then give tailored advice to curb problem behaviors and improve communication.

A thorough behavioral assessment takes time but is well worth it, especially for long-standing issues or aggressive incidents. In some cases medication may be recommended, in combination with environmental changes and behavioral therapy. Working with a vet and behaviorist is the best way to get to the root of behavior problems and restore peace to your home.

Forgiving Nature

One of the most admirable qualities of cats is their ability to forgive. Even after yelling, cats tend to be able to move past the event and rebuild trust through positive interactions. While the yelling may linger in their memory, it does not necessarily determine their future perceptions once given affection. By focusing again on providing your cat with affection, playtime, treats and a soothing tone of voice, you can rebuild the bond.

Cats live very much in the present moment, not dwelling on the past. While you may still feel guilty about the yelling, your cat is likely ready to move forward with a clean slate once you reinitiate those familiar loving behaviors. It is truly remarkable how forgiving cats can be, which is a good lesson for us as owners. No pet owner is perfect, but we can always focus on the next moment and interaction to strengthen the relationship with our feline companions.


In summary, while cats do have excellent memories, their focus is primarily on the present moment. They recall positive interactions and may associate yelling with past experiences or punishments. However, scolding can upset them in the moment. It’s best to use positive reinforcement techniques and redirect unwanted behaviors. If communication challenges persist, consulting an animal behavior specialist can help.

Cats tend to be forgiving by nature. While yelling may have a temporary negative impact, most cats bounce back quickly when treated with kindness. With patience and empathy, you can rebuild your bond. What matters most is that you learn constructive ways to communicate that bring you closer to your feline companion.

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