When you leave your cat alone for too long, you get the distinct impression that when you get home it’s sulking at you. Likewise, when you scold or punish them for something it’s done wrong, you’re sure it’s mad at you for days. But is this really the case? Are cats able to sulk?
A memory of 16 hours
According to one study, cats have the ability to remember an event for 16 hours. Also note that the more intense the event, the longer they remember it. Their memory is therefore more efficient than that of dogs (which is 5 minutes) or even that of orangutans.
But the fact that cats have a good memory does not mean that they are capable of holding grudges towards humans.
Resentment confused with anxiety
In reality, if cats adopt a strange behavior after an unpleasant event for them, it is not because they have resentment but because they are stressed. Yes, many cat owners tend to confuse these two emotions.
For example, if your cat ignores you or runs away from you when you return from vacation, it is quite simply because your return upsets the new habits it had to adopt when you left. And this proves to be particularly stressful for them. Indeed, the cat is a creature of habit and if there is something it hates it is that their environment changes.
So that’s also why it’s been urinating in bed since your partner moved in with you. It’s not out of revenge but simply to mark out his territory and feel safe at home again. This is called territorial anxiety.
Resentment confused with fear or distrust
Likewise, if your cat snubs you for a few hours after being scolded, it’s likely because cat associated you with a negative emotion. Indeed, our feline friends do not understand the notion of punishment. So, when they do something stupid, they have absolutely no idea that they are doing something wrong. It doesn’t even cross their minds for the simple and good reason that all their behaviors are dictated by their natural and, sometimes, wild instincts.
For example, scratching their claws is a basic need, essential to their survival. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s on a tree or on a couch. They don’t understand what difference it makes. Therefore, if you scold your cat for scratching your furniture, it will take that as aggression (in human language, for gratuitous meanness). It will therefore tend to distrust you until it gradually forgets your altercation.
So, you will understand, cats are not resentful, they are not able to sulk. On the contrary, they are even rather forgiving with our changing moods. And if they show unusual behavior, it is most often out of anxiety, fear or mistrust.
Good to know: cats are very sensitive beings, so they can quickly associate a place, a noise or a person with a negative feeling. It can even be anchored in their memory in a lasting way if this feeling is strong in intensity (for example a single traumatic visit to the veterinarian can be enough for them to experience a panic fear of the veterinarian afterwards).