How Long Does A Cat Hold A Grudge?
“Grudge” might not be the right word …
Have you ever stepped on your cat's paws by accident and attempted to make it up to him with lots of treats and some playtime? After all, you didn’t mean it!
But will your affection actually make up for the mistake? And how long does a cat hold a grudge?
Well, it turns out “grudge” might not be the most accurate term, according to Dr. Mikel Delgado, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist with the Animal Behavior Society and certified cat behavior consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Do cats even hold grudges?
When your BFF isn’t exactly pleased with you, it’s not really fair to call it a grudge.
“I would never describe cats as ‘holding a grudge’ as that implies ‘resentment,’" Dr. Delgado told The Dodo. “Cats make associations based on positive and negative experiences they have with people, but that does not mean we should define their responses as resentful or … as though they feel they have been wronged.”
Like us, cats have short- and long-term memories, and they may hold negative memories for a while.
“Some things are more important to remember — such as things that make you feel threatened,” Dr. Delgado said. “If a cat has a very scary or unpleasant experience (such as having their tail stepped on, or being frightened), they will remember that very well!”
But that doesn’t mean your cat’s holding a grudge against you.
“They are just remembering what is important to survive and stay safe,” Dr. Delgado said.
How long does a cat hold a ‘grudge’? And how to turn things around with your cat
How long it’ll take for your cat to feel better after an unpleasant experience will just depend on your cat — since cats all have individual personalities, some will take longer to get over negative associations than others.
But a little well-intentioned bribery can go a long way towards getting back in your BFF’s good graces.
“You can also help your cat have better associations with you by engaging with them in ways they like (e.g., playing with interactive wand toys, gentle petting) and offering them their favorite things (e.g., treats),” Dr. Delgado said.
How to prevent your cat from developing negative associations
The best way to prevent an “oops” moment with your cat is to pay close attention to the physical cues he’s giving you.
“Learn cat body language so that you can tell if they are scared or irritated with what you are doing,” Dr. Delgado said.
Your cat’s body language will let you know which things make him uncomfortable before it becomes too scary. And if you can spot those signs, then you can honor his boundaries.
“If your cat does not like being held, you should not keep trying to hold them,” Dr. Delgado said. “If your cat has preferences about where they like to be petted, respect that.”
Body language that means your cat may be scared includes:
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to give your cat his space because it’ll help prevent that fear from escalating.
“Cats are often stressed when they don't feel they have choices — to get away, to control the pace of an interaction, to take their time getting to know someone,” Dr. Delgado said.
And socializing your cat at a young age will help prevent him from developing negative associations with you.
“Those experiences are important in helping cats feel comfortable later in life,” Dr. Delgado said. “A cat who was not exposed to a lot of different people early in life may be more fearful of new people later in life, and need more time to adjust to changes.”
So if your cat’s upset about something, just remember he’s not holding a grudge. Instead, try to reframe those negative associations into positive ones by showering him with his favorite treats and toys.
And don’t forget to pay attention to his body language so you don’t do anything that scares him or makes him uncomfortable. (And, of course, watch where you step!)