Do Cats Know They Are Being Adopted?

When you are contemplating adopting a cat from your local shelter, there is much to consider. These cats are obviously all homeless but for reasons of all kinds. Many of them are stray kittens that have been born to a cat with owners that did not want the pregnancy. These kittens are often just taken somewhere and let out of a car in a place far away from where the mother lives. Animal Control is called, and the strays are picked up and taken to the shelter.

It doesn’t have to be kittens, either. If the wife gets pregnant, the couple may decide they no longer want the cat and put him out the same way. Other cats escape from their normal safe environments and get lost, and yet others are rescued from horribly abusive and neglectful situations every day and placed in shelters across the country. 

What are shelter cats thinking when you come to the shelter shopping around for a new cat? Do they want you to adopt them, and will they love you more than other cats? Let’s see what we can find out.

Do cats know they’re being adopted?

Some say there is no way that cats know they are being adopted, but I don’t know if I lean toward that way of thinking. I lean more toward the theory that they do get it, at least to some degree — that they grasp they have been chosen to travel to a new home. I’ll discuss my reasoning later on in this article, but it has to do with the way a cat’s memory works.

Are cats sad when they get adopted?

You may assume that a cat would be happy to get adopted, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Some cats may be happy, even quite excited to be adopted, while others may be depressed and even stop eating for a time. The reasons for these reactions also have to do with how a cat’s memory works.

Do adopted cats miss their owners?

Cats don’t have to come from a shelter to get adopted. They can be adopted from other homes or breeders, or they can be retired police cats, etcetera. When a cat is adopted, does he long for his old owners? Well, let’s take a look at how a cat’s memory works.

What is semantic memory?

Semantic memory is a kind of long-term memory. It pulls from a cat’s knowledge and not so much his experience. For a human, an example of semantic memory could be a student remembering what she has studied to answer questions on a test. Semantic memory is one’s brain recalling general knowledge.

For a cat, learning a trick like “sit” or “fetch” requires the use of their semantic memory. They must be able to connect the command with the desired action. If you ask him to sit or fetch every once in a while, he will probably retain that knowledge for a lifetime. If your rescue cat was previously trained, he will probably react when you call out a command such as “sit” or “heel”.

What is episodic memory?

Episodic memory is the type of memory we experience when we think back to recall our childhood friends, our favorite cars, or the one that got away — it’s our ability to get nostalgic, to replay our pasts like a film on the big screen, to relate specific events to times, places, and emotions. We, as humans, take it for granted, but do cats possess episodic memory?

The jury is still out on whether cats have episodic memory. One study showed that cats may really have the potential to store complex memories to their long-term memories. Episodic memory differs from semantic memory in that episodic memory does not require you to make a conscious effort to remember data. The difference is that semantic memory is memorizing the address and time of your best friend’s birthday party, but episodic memory is remembering that the two of you danced with the two most handsome men at the party.

There is no way to be certain whether cats possess episodic memory. Now, let’s look at one more type.

What is associative memory?

Cats actually use their associative memory more than whatever other memory they may or may not possess. Associative memory is when a cat makes an “association” or emotional connection to a specific stimulus, whether it be a positive or negative one. An example of positive association is how he gets very excited when you open the door to take him to the car because he associates car rides with fun and adventure. An example of negative association is how he hangs his head when you open the door to put him out on the patio when you go to work because he relates that to abandonment.

In other words, they may not remember what adventure you went on the last time you went somewhere in the car but only the way they felt then, and they associate those emotions to the car. Cats use their associative memory constantly, as they essentially associate everything or everyone with a feeling (an emotion). It’s how they learn how to interact with the people and things in everyday environments.

Now, what’s the answer? Do adopted cats miss their owners?

Cats probably blend associative and semantic memories to relate their present to their past. So, back to the first question: Do cats know they’re being adopted? I think they might have at least some idea of what’s going on. I mean — they were put in a vehicle to take them to the shelter. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing in their eyes is another story.

For instance, a cat that was rescued from a terribly hostile, abusive, or neglectful environment may have been very relieved to have been put into that van and taken to a shelter, fed, bathed, and treated with respect, and he may be thrilled to be adopted and get into another vehicle with you and go to a new home, or not. However, a cat who jumped the fence of a happy home, got lost, and ended up in a shelter may not want to get into a vehicle of any kind for any reason because the last one took him to a shelter to live in a cage.

Frankly, you have no idea what to expect from a shelter cat because you have no clue what they’ve experienced. Even when you do, you have no idea what their reactions will be initially. Evidence does show, however, that, yes, cats can recall, at minimum, the way their old life made them feel. They can relate people and things to emotions. So, if a cat is put in a room with a man who abused him in the past, the cat may cower and even pee himself.

Do adopted cats miss their previous owners? Well, they may or may not recall their faces or their voices, but they do recall how their previous owners made them feel, so start there.

Is it cruel to rehome a cat?

It is not cruel to give a cat a new home, especially if, for whatever reason, his current home is no longer ideal. A cat needs a home where he is not only shielded from the elements and fed but where he is loved and made to feel that he is part of the family (pack). Are you wondering how to make your new rescue cat feel at ease?

Take time to help your cat get acclimated to his new surroundings.

It’s a good idea to stay home with a rescue cat for the first few days after you bring him home. This will go miles toward making him comfortable in his new surroundings. Hang right with him most of the time at first, but try not to push yourself onto him. If he feels smothered, he may pull away emotionally. Be playful with him, but at least, at first, until you get used to him and what he does and doesn’t like, don’t play rough, as he may have been abused, and you don’t want to scare him or accidentally hurt him.

Don’t rush your new cat into socializing.

You’ll want to show off your new feline buddy, but take your sweet time in doing so. Rescue cats can easily feel overwhelmed. Don’t introduce him to your friends and family all at once but one or two at a time. Instruct these people that these aren’t just any cats but rescue cats and that they should be gentle. Also, instruct children to act calmly and handle the cat with care. Supervise children with your cat at all times.

Do not rush into introducing him to other animals in and around the home either, and always supervise interactions between these animals until you are sure there is no animosity going on between them.

Provide your new cat with a private, safe area to sleep.

It is also a good idea to set up an area or room for your new cat to sleep in that’s enclosed where it’s peaceful and your cat will feel safe. This is very important if you have other pets because your new cat will still be unsure of his place in the pet hierarchy.

Create a routine for your new cat right away.

Cats need routines. They thrive on structure. They will acclimate to your home more quickly if you set up a routine for them right away. Also, behavioral issues can appear when cats don’t have structure, so your cat will be more well-behaved with a set schedule.

How long do cats miss their old owners?

How long does it take for cats to stop missing their previous owners? Do they really even miss them? Who knows? It could be that it only seems like they miss their owners because they won’t eat, but they are really not eating because the cat food you bought for them doesn’t agree with them, or it’s unappetizing. They could seem depressed when they are really just suffering from a little nausea from the change in diet. 

We just don’t know what our cats are thinking, so we do the best we can to take care of them and keep them safe and happy.

Do rescue cats love you more?

Many people believe that rescue cats love you more than other cats. That, I think, is a myth. All cats have the potential to love you tons, but they also have the potential to be unhappy with you. It’s a sad shame, but when you have no way of knowing a cat’s past, you have no gauge to measure what should be a normal reaction to basic stimuli and thus, what his feelings are or why he has them.