There are many times when I am looking at my cat and wondering what is going on in that cute little mind of his.
Is he thinking about his next meal or planning how to terrorize me?
One question that has always fascinated me is whether our cats have the ability to remember their siblings or litter mates.
Many kittens tend to get separated as they get older as they go their way or get adopted by different families.
But is there an eternal bond that allows cats to recognize family if they do meet after a long absence?
In this article, you will learn about the complexities of feline memory and their ability (or inability) to remember their siblings.
How Do Cats Recognize Each Other?
Unlike humans, cats don’t have the ability to recognize another cat visually as accurately as humans do.
However, they do have the ability to remember another cat via its unique scent.
When a kitten is born, it is very dependent on its mother for food and survival.
Even though the kitten’s eyes are closed at birth, it has a strong sense of smell. It sticks close to the mother cat all the time hence the scent bond is strong.
Mother cats start teaching their kittens to be independent at about 5 weeks old.
After a while, the kittens from the same litter will leave the nest and live their own lives.
Without being close to their mother, the scent bond is weakened over time till the point of being forgotten.
That being said, there is still a chance the cat can recognize its mother if the scent triggers old memories.
How Do Cats Leave Their Scent?
Smell is a very big recognition signature for cats. There are a couple of ways that cats can transfer their scent onto another cat or us.
One very common way is to rub their heads against each other. This action is called bunting and it means acceptance.
Cats have scent glands on their whisker pads and when it rubs this area onto another cat, their scent is being transferred.
Kneading with their paws is another common way. This action starts as kittens and lasts all the way as adult cats.
You will also notice that cats will groom and lick each other a lot. This is another way of exchanging scents.
If a cat licks and grooms a dog, it means that the cat has accepted the dog as one of its own.
You’ll probably notice this action when your cat is feeling relaxed or is getting ready for bed. It’s also usually accompanied by copious amounts of purring.
When a cat kneads, it leaves its scent on the object that it is kneading. This is made possible by scent glands located in its paws.
Don’t try looking at your cat’s paws now.
You won’t be able to see the scent glands as it’s hidden in the paws.
Another so preferred way of passing scent is with urine. Cats that are not neutered or spayed tend to make their territory by peeing on the walls.
So if you know how bad a cat’s pee can smell like, neutering your cat might be a good option.
Do Kittens Remember Their Siblings?
This brings us to the next important question.
If cats can’t really remember their mothers, will cats recognize or remember their siblings?
Unfortunately, the answer is still probably no.
Most cats will not remember their siblings from the same litter if they have been separated for a period of time.
This can cause siblings to mate with each other when they meet in the future.
When a kitten is born, the other cats in the same litter will have the same scent. This helps them recognize each other as being part of the same group.
Same as how kindergarten kids of the same class might wear the same color tops or hats.
And by staying close to each other in the group, these kittens form a bond as they groom and pass their scent around.
Therefore, cats treat siblings differently as compared to other cats due to this strong scent bond.
The Importance Of Having Littermates
Even though feral and domestic cats might not remember their siblings once they get separated, having littermates play an important part in the growing-up stage.
With kitten siblings, they can have a good fundamental base for socialization and play.
Roughhousing and playing with each other allow them to hone and improve their hunting skills.
It also teaches cat siblings how to control their bite strength during playtime.
Kittens that are taken from their litter before 12 weeks tend to be more aggressive as they get older as they don’t have the ‘playtime rules’ ingrained in their brain.
Do Cats Have Memories?
Trying to ascertain a cat’s memory capabilities is a challenging task. Scientists have no verbal confirmation from cats and can only make conclusions based on the cat’s behavior.
However, there have been official studies that have managed to delve deeper into this mysterious aspect of cats.
Short Term Memory In Cats
Short-term memory is also known as working memory. This form of memory allows cats to retain and process information over brief periods, generally a few seconds to a minute.
My cat uses this form of memory to remember where his food bowl and litter box are.
In 2006, a study was done on 24 cats to see how long it would take before they have trouble finding a hidden object.
And the scientists found that 60 seconds was the point when cats started having issues.
Long Term Memory In Cats
The long term memory in cats acts as a filing cabinet for experiences that have happened over the lifetime of a cat.
A cat’s long-term memories are primarily associative and based on survival instincts.
If you cat has been badly scared by a vacuum cleaner or a dog as a kitten, chances are it will still carry that fear into adulthood.
Some studies have claimed that a cat’s long term memory can last for up to 10 years.
I do find that this is something very hard to test as there are just too many variables at play.
However, it can be common to hear about cats finding their way home or recognizing their families after being lost for many years.
How Long Do Cats Remember Each Other?
It depends largely on the period of separation.
Adult cats that have been raised together for a long time have a strong bond with each other.
If you were to remove one cat for a short period of time, chances are they can pick up where they left off when reunited.
If the period of separation is too long, the scent bond between the cats has weakened or no longer exists.
This can cause confusion among the cats as they see the returning cat as a ‘new cat’.
One important point to note is that a cat returning from a vet has to be carefully introduced back to a multi-cat household.
At the vet, the cat is bombarded with so many different scents. This can be the smell of other animals, humans, medication, etc.
All these scent particles will tend to stick to the cat thus making it smell totally different than before it left home.
There’s a high possibility that your other cats won’t recognize their furry friend when it is home which could result in aggressive or confrontational behavior.
Adopting From The Same Litter
If you are looking to adopt a cat from its litter, there are a few things that you should consider.
When a young kitten who has been around its mom and cat siblings gets taken away for adoption, it can be a very challenging and difficult transitional period for it.
The new environment, sights, smells, sounds or even the presence of other pets are enough to cause separation anxiety.
This can cause the kitten to become withdrawn and run away from you when you approach.
However, if you were to adopt two cats from the same litter, there is a scent bond between the two young kittens.
This will help alleviate some of the separation anxiety by introducing a level of familiarity in a new environment.
I understand that it can be a handful for many cat owners to have more than one cat. But if you have the capacity to do so, adopt at least two cat siblings.
Do Cats Get Sad When Their Siblings Leave?
It is common to have litter mates who were brought up and rehomed together get sad or depressed when separated.
On the flip side, millions of Youtube videos have also shown how kittens can quickly start to develop a bond with their new owner or foster after some time.
We start to become the new family for our fur kid when we bring our cat back home.
This is why some newly adopted cats aren’t very friendly at first due to a lack of a scent bond.
The scent imprint for cats is a very strong bonding element.
More so than sight or sound.
If you want your cat to remember you after you leave for college, make sure to continuously remind your cat of your smell so that you still exist in your cat’s mind.
Do Cats Remember Their Parents?
I was curious if a cat could really remember or recognize its parents.
Looking bad at my own childhood years, my recollection of the time spent with my family was always clearest with my own mother.
Many studies have shown that the bond between mother and child is always the strongest.
Wouldn’t it also hold true for a mother cat and her kittens and vice versa?
Unfortunately, it seems that cats don’t really remember who their mother was after a period of separation.
Even if you were to reunite a cat with its mother after some time, chances are they would stay behave like strangers.
Does Mommy Cat Remember Her Kittens?
Let’s flip it around now to see if a female cat can remember or recognize her own litter after some period of separation.
If a baby is given up at birth, it can be hard for the parents to recognize the child as he/she grows older.
Humans don’t bond as strongly via scent as cats.
What about a mother cat who is reunited with her kittens after months or years?
Once a young kitten leaves its nest, the bond between the mother and kitten will get less intense over time due to the lack of mutual scent exchange.
There’s a possibility that the mother and kitten might end up fighting or flirting with each other if they cross paths after some time.
The only outlier to this behavior are lions.
Lions live as a big unit known as a pride and look after each other and hunt together for many years to come.
Only the males might leave the pride to look for other females to mate with.
Besides Lions, no other feline species will live together. From tigers to little sand cats.
Do Cats Really Lack Family Ties?
Most animals don’t have the same kind of family connections as we humans do. They don’t recognize another cat as their biological mother or sibling.
However, they will relate to each other a lot better through smell which is how Cats remember siblings and their mom.
Domesticated cats aren’t pack animals like dogs. Cats are innately fiercely independent and don’t hold on to family connections, if any, as tightly as dogs.
This doesn’t mean that a cat can’t bond with other cats or with you.
Do Cats Remember Their Own Names?
Since we know by now that cats don’t really have a strong bond with their parents or siblings once they leave but how good are they at remembering their own names?
As cat owners, we know that trying to get our cats to come by calling for them can be a frustrating experience.
I’ve told my cat countless times that it feels like I’m talking to the wall when calling for him.
A study in Japan has found that cats do respond more enthusiastically when their names are called by their owners as compared to a stranger.
Hence it shows that there is some form of bond between the cat and its owner.
Cats learn to recognize their owner’s voices and it’s possible to teach cats to recognize other words.