How long do cats hold grudges?

Let’s admit:

We’ve all stepped on our cat’s tail at least once and felt guilty about it for days.

But do you ever wonder if your cat is holding a grudge against this accident? Or if they can harbor a grudge at all?

That’s what we’re going to find out today. Here is everything you need to know about cat grudges and how long they last: 

Do Cats Hold Grudges?

Seeing your cat hiss at you or scratch the curtains can make you wonder whether they’re harboring a grudge. But what may seem like an attempt to get back at you is rarely an act of revenge.

There are two main explanations for why cats cannot hold a grudge:

  • Cats do not feel resentment like humans
  • They have a shorter memory span than humans

What does that mean? First, you must understand that cats do not function like humans. According to feline behaviorist Pam Johansson-Bennett, cats have a very practical mindset by nature. They only perform an action when it helps them achieve something. Like playing brings them happiness, and eating helps them survive.

But when it comes to harboring a grudge, it doesn’t bring any real benefit to your cat. So, they will choose to forgive and let go instead of holding resentment. Sure, your cat can become angry and irritated if you put them in an uncomfortable situation. But they won’t plot against you or pee on your couch if you unintentionally hurt them.

So why do cats turn their back on you when you step on their tail by accident?

This is where their instinct comes into play. Cats are instinctual by nature and try to avoid any situation that threatens their safety. If they are physically or mentally hurt, whether intentionally or by mistake, they will try to avoid that situation in the future. 

For owners and fellow cats, the isolation period can be as little as a few hours. But for stray dogs or strangers, it can continue for several days to weeks. Another way cats measure how long to stay away from a specific situation is by the severity of the incident.

If they suffered life-threatening injuries from a person or animal, the cat would probably remember and avoid them for the rest of their lives. This behavior is commonly seen in cats that come from abusive households. Such cats will keep away from any individual that looks, smells, or even talks like their abuser.

But for day-to-day accidents like someone stepping on their tail, the effect will quickly wear off, and your cat will go back to normal much faster. 

Memory Span Of Cats

One of the reasons why cats are quick to forgive (or forget) without holding a grudge is because of their memory. Compared to humans, felines have a shorter memory span that makes them get over day-to-day incidents much faster.

But when it comes to serious mishaps, those might stick with your cat for a lot longer. And all of this is related to their short-term and long-term memory. Let’s discuss this below:

Short-term memory 

Also known as working memory, this part of a cat’s memory stores anything that will be useful for a limited period. Like remembering the location of their food bowl or where they placed a favorite toy. 

When your cat gets stepped on or pricked by an object, their short-term memory automatically stores this information in their brain. They will remember feeling pain or shock in that scenario and avoid it until their memory refreshes again. 

According to research, this can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 16 hours, though painful memories usually take longer to forget. So it’s best to leave them alone for at least 16 hours, after which their short-term memory will refresh, and your cat will be back to normal again.

Long-term memory

All of the essential moments and information from a cat’s childhood to death are stored in their long-term memory. From their biggest phobias to the scent of their mother, everything that helps them function on a daily basis will stick with your cat for life in this part of the brain. 

Cats can also make new long-term memories when they experience trauma. Such as getting into a serious accident, being abused by their owner, or hearing thunder for the first time. Because they act on their instinct to survive, anything that poses a serious threat to their life will remain in their long-term memory for several years.

Luckily, this does not include minor accidents. However, if you bring home an abused or stray cat, they might still carry a fear of strangers, loud noises, or other animals. And if they experience those same things again, your cat will probably lash out to protect itself. 

Reasons Why Cats Attack Their Owners

Just because your cat won’t hold a grudge doesn’t mean you cannot piss them off. Cats are known to be extremely moody pets that easily get irritated when things don’t go their way. Sometimes, this can be due to a fault of our own, while on others, not so much.

In any case, you will likely become the target of your cat’s aggression. And the best way to prevent unwarranted bites and scratches is to avoid things that irritate your feline friend. Here are a few things that cats find annoying:

  1. Giving your cat too much attention
  2. Aggressively petting them (especially on the tummy or paws)
  3. Lifting them without permission
  4. Not giving them enough attention
  5. Forcefully giving them medicine
  6. Feeding them spoiled or rotten food
  7. Shouting or making loud noises near your cat
  8. Providing more attention to another cat or pet
  9. Stepping on their tail or leg
  10. Moving their furniture
  11. Not cleaning their litterbox
  12. Cradling them like a baby
  13. Staring at your cat for long periods

Apart from these basic mistakes, cats also hate when their environment is not according to their standards. They hate breezy winds and strangers entering their personal space. 

Essential oils and scents of citrus, rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus, and lavender can also put them in a bad mood. If you want to reduce your cat’s aggression and likelihood of being scratched or bit, try to avoid all of these common mistakes.

Ways To Apologize To A Cat

When you step on your cat’s tail, it’s natural to want to shower them with kisses and apologies. But is this the correct approach?

Apparently not. As we mentioned before, cats will try to maintain some distance after suffering pain or shock. Therefore, smothering them with cuddles is the last thing you’d want to do. Not only could it make them even angrier, but your cat might even lay a few bites on you to get away.

A much better way to apologize is to give your cat some space. As mentioned before, cats have short memories and usually look over small mishaps. Let them have some time alone to see that you are not a threat. Once they’ve made sure the coast is clear, they’ll go back to being the same affectionate kitty in no time.

If you are eager to make your cat comfortable even quicker, try the following techniques to please them:

1. Sit near your cat during mealtime

During their mealtime, cats are generally relaxed and in a good mood. This is the perfect occasion to sit near them and let them observe that you are not a threat. Your cat will also be able to see you place the food dish and associate this with pleasant memories. Just make sure you don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises to scare them away! 

2. Place their bed closer to yours

Holding or lifting your cat is off-limits when they are on time out. But you can place their bed near your couch or mattress. This is an excellent method of bringing them within your vicinity so they can become comfortable with your presence. Who knows, they might even choose to sit in your lap instead of their bed.

3. Try playing them from a distance

No cat is able to resist a furry wand toy or catnip ball! Use this to your advantage and try to play with your cat from a distance. Catnip is proven to make felines mellower and relaxed, which might also encourage them to lower their guard. But if they don’t seem too fond of play, try not to force them and simply let them have their space.


How to know if your cat is angry?

An angry cat will display irritation through body language. Look for these signs if you suspect that your cat is annoyed:

  • Ears pressed against the head
  • Staring with dilated pupils
  • Growling, hissing, or spitting
  • Arched back and puffed tail
  • Tail is twitching

Do cats forget about abuse?

Cats do not forget or forgive serious physical abuse over the long term, such as hitting or kicking. This trauma can remain in their memory for life. However, an abused cat will return to normal with a new owner who takes care of them and follows a consistent routine. 

Why do cats bite your hand?

Cats will grab and bite your hand if they have gotten too much attention or are over-stimulated. They will also nip their owners’ hands if you rub vulnerable parts of their body, such as their belly or paws.

Do cats get jealous?

Yes, cats can get jealous if you give more attention to another person or pet. They will try to slip between you two, hiss or growl, scratch, bite, or start peeing around the house to mark their territory. 

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