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Do Cats Recognize Other Cats?

Cats are very intelligent animals, but they see and understand the world very differently than we do. They also experience the world much differently than dogs do. And this extends all the way to the methods they use to experience and recognize everything around them, including other cats. And we don’t really understand much about that. We have a few guesses, but bottom line: we don’t know for sure whether cats recognize other cats vs. other animals, or if all the world is feline to our kitty friends.

Do cats remember abuse?
If your rescue cat is struggling with behavioral issues, it might not be due to stubbornness or spitefulness. Instead, your new pet may be dealing with the aftermath of abuse. You may notice your cat reacts negatively to certain scents, sights, or other stimulations. He or she may run from men with beards, for example, or lash out at women who wear a certain scent. In these cases, your cat could associate the sight or smell with a negative past memory. Talk to your vet or feline behaviorist about how to help your cat if you think he or she has been the victim of abuse.

Do cats remember other cats?
Says Hanen Abdel Rahman Yes, cats can remember other cats though experts aren’t sure for how long. Early in life, littermates exchange scents to recognize each other should they get separated. Cats use this same trick throughout their lifetimes. Probably, a cat’s memory of another cat depends on the length and impact of the two animals’ relationship.

How do cats’ senses factor in?
When we walk into a room that contains a dog, a cat, and another human, our eyes are the first thing that gives away that we’re looking at 3 very distinct species. Cats don’t use their eyes for identification in the same way. Instead, they typically use their noses to make identifications. And because the environment influences smell so much, it can make it hard for cats to make certain distinctions.

A mama cat will know her kittens by their unique smell at birth, and she will obviously care for and protect them. However, after her kittens are weaned and gone from her – perhaps because they were adopted by other humans – she might not recognize them. Once a kitten’s environment has changed significantly, their smell has changed as well, so they’re no longer identifiable, even by their mother.

The feline smell is such a specialized sense, and there isn’t a lot of research we can do to understand it better. Even if a mama cat doesn’t recognize her specific kitten, does she know that it’s a cat just by its smell? We don’t have the answers to those questions yet.

Scientists also believe that cats can employ what’s called phenotype matching. If they learn from an early age to recognize a certain smell as a family smell, they may be able to sense kin, even if they’ve never met. Scientists still don’t understand much about phenotype matching. We don’t know whether the matching comes because a cat can smell something about itself that it recognizes in another? Or is there something imprinted in the cat at birth that leaves it with a sense of other cats that might be related to it.

However, even though cats seem to possess these phenotype matching abilities, it doesn’t seem to change their behavior markedly enough to give us a clear idea of how much they recognize other cats.

Cats might recognize their mother’s voice
A study published in Developmental Psychobiology suggests that cats recognize the voices of their mothers. So while cats seem to quickly lose any recognition for the scents of their close relations, they may not lose the memory of their voice quite as quickly.

The study played recordings of a feline’s mother over a loudspeaker, as well as the voices of several other cats. Scientists noticed that cats seemed more engaged and approached the speaker more quickly when they heard their mother’s voice.

However, this was one of the few studies that recorded what they would argue was a cat “recognizing” something, and the behavior was so subtle that it speaks to how tough it can be to determine anything about what’s going on inside a kitty’s head. Scientists described that the cats seemed to listen more intently when they heard their mother’s voice. They also approached the speaker more quickly and seemed to lurk by the speaker for a longer period.

While we’d love to say that more research will eventually clear up this conundrum and definitively prove whether cats can recognize other cats, we’re not sure that’s true. Felines are so mysterious, particular, and headstrong, we’re not sure they’ll ever let us into their heads enough to totally understand. And that’s fine. One of the reasons we love cats so much is because of their stubborn, independent side. They do seem to be able to recognize a good snuggle. And that’s really all we need, isn’t it?