Cats are famously independent, mysterious creatures. Unlike dogs, who aim to please their owners, cats have a reputation for being aloof and even cold at times. This has led many cat owners to wonder – do cats actually carry grudges against the people who care for them? Let’s explore this fascinating feline phenomenon.
What is a grudge?
A grudge is defined as ongoing negative feelings or resentment towards a person, group, or situation. Grudges are held onto even after the original offense has passed.
In humans, grudges often arise after feelings of betrayal, mistreatment, or disrespect. The grudge holder relives the original offense over and over, fueling their negative sentiments. They may even seek revenge or justice.
Grudges can last for years if left unresolved. This ongoing resentment takes mental and emotional energy from the grudge holder. People holding grudges often feel victimized and angry.
So in order for cats to hold a grudge, they would need to have negative feelings that persist even after the situation that sparked them is over. Their behavior would be characterized by avoidance, aggression, or other signs of resentment.
Do cats have the cognitive capacity for grudges?
Scientists are still unravelling the inner lives of cats. But recent research provides some clues into cat cognition and memory.
Studies show cats have excellent long-term memories. They can remember complex routines, places, people, and experiences from months or even years in the past. For example, cats remember positive associations like where they get fed. But they also remember negative experiences, like a visit to the vet.
Cats also have emotions like contentment, anxiety, frustration, and anger. Their brains even produce oxytocin – the “love hormone” that promotes bonding. So cats do seem to have the mental capacity for forming attachments and recalled memories. Both are needed to fuel grudges.
But holding a grudge also requires complex thought processes like blame, rumination, and assigning intent to others’ actions. It’s unclear if cats’ brains can engage in this degree of abstract thinking. Some experts think not.
So the jury is still out on whether felines have the cognitive depth for true grudges against the humans in their lives. More research is needed.
Signs your cat may be holding a grudge
Even if cats don’t fully understand blame and intent, they can still demonstrate long-lasting behavior changes in response to negative events. Here are some signs your cat could be harboring a grievance:
If your cat starts evading you after an upsetting incident, they may still be upset about it. Hiding, running away, or avoiding physical contact can signal residual resentment.
If your formerly friendly feline starts lashing out with bites or scratches, it could point to a grudge. Aggression when touched in certain places may indicate injury or trauma associated with past handling.
Inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter box can result from stress, anxiety, or protest. If your cat starts eliminating where they shouldn’t after an unpleasant event like a bath or vet visit, they may be expressing their displeasure.
Persistent yowling, growling, or anxious meowing can stem from a cat feeling bothered or hostile. This vocal unrest after a disruption could be your talkative tabby holding a grudge.
Catty vengeance may present as torn up furniture, shredded drapes, or broken possessions after an affront. Inappropriate chewing, scratching, and other destructive acts could indicate lingering resentment.
A traumatized cat may show signs of depression like lack of grooming, appetite changes, or lethargy. If these behaviors persist long after an upsetting incident, your pet may be struggling to move on.
So if your cat’s behavior seems different in the weeks or months after something unpleasant occurred involving you, grudge-holding could be one explanation. Consult your vet to rule out potential medical causes first. Then consider environmental changes, pheromone therapy, or other behavioral support to mend the relationship.
When cats seem to carry a grudge
While we can’t know for sure what’s going on in cats’ minds, there are some common scenarios where cats appear to harbor long-term resentment:
After veterinary visits
It’s not uncommon for cats to act aloof, aggressive, or mistrustful of their owners after returning from the vet’s office or animal hospital. Being examined, getting shots, and being confined are unpleasant experiences for felines. The resultant hiding and acting out may look like your cat is holding a grudge over the ordeal. Make sure to give them plenty of recovery time in a calm environment.
Against other household pets
Cats can take weeks or more to accept new animal housemates like dogs, rabbits, or other cats. They seem to resent the arrival of another pet encroaching on their territory and human’s affection. This prolonged dislike for the newcomer gives the impression of a grudge. Slow, structured introductions and separate resources for multiple pets can help.
Cats have long memories, so being scolded, sprayed with water, or startled into interrupting an undesirable behavior like scratching can cause enduring mistrust and avoidance. Your cat may act slighted or hold a grudge if discipline seemed unpredictable or harsh from their perspective. Stay calm and consistent when training cats.
After injuries or trauma
Painful experiences like getting stepped on, pulled by the tail, attacked by another animal, or hit by a car can make cats extra skittish for months. They may remain fearful of the location, situation, or person associated with the trauma, seemingly holding resentment over the experience. Let them rebuild confidence and trust slowly.
Cats given up by their families and placed in new homes often act aloof, shy, and slow to trust again. Early neglect or abandonment seems to predispose cats to holding long-term grudges that make bonding difficult. Shower these cats with patience, routine, and affection.
So while cats may not ruminate on memories the same way humans do, they can definitely display lingering behavioral changes after upsetting events. Whether this truly qualifies as “grudge-holding” is up for debate.
Do cats forgive?
The good news for cat owners is that while cats seem capable of holding a grudge, they also appear able to get over offenses with time and care.
Even if you made a mistake that caused your cat stress or harm, forgiveness is likely with compassion. Cats primarily live in the present moment, not the past. So with gentle treatment and patience, they will usually come around after a disruption to the relationship.
Here are some tips for restoring peace with a feline after conflict:
– Give them adequate space and time to relax and overcome any trauma or stress before attempting to interact again. Don’t force contact.
– Try calming pheromones or CBD oils to ease anxiety and reset their mood.
– Slowly rebuild positive associations through play, treats, catnip, and other motivators your cat likes.
– Keep handling gentle and predictable; don’t loom over or corner them.
– Be proactive with enrichment like perches, scratchers, and interactive toys to relieve stress.
– Ask your vet about medications if depression, aggression, or house soiling persists.
– Never punish or scold them for grudge-like behaviors; this will only exacerbate mistrust.
With dedicated rebuilding of your bond, your cat is likely to get over grievances in time. Their capacity for forgiveness is one of the ways cats demonstrate their adaptable, resilient nature.
While we can never know for certain what cats are thinking or feeling, the weight of evidence suggests felines may have the cognitive capacity to hold grudges – even if they conceive of them differently than humans. Lingering behavioral changes in response to negative experiences point to cats potentially assigning blame and maintaining resentment. However, cats evolved as highly adaptable animals, seeming to prioritize present wellbeing over past slights. So with care and effort, cat owners can usually restore affectionate relationships after conflict, vet visits, change, or mistakes. Understanding normal cat behavior, providing enrichment, allowing adequate decompression time, and rebuilding positive associations will help both you and kitty leave any grudges in the past where they belong.