Donate Sponsor

Receiving the ‘cold shoulder’ from your cat doesn’t mean they’re holding a grudge against you. Here’s why...

Ever brought your cat home from the vets and noticed they seem a bit ‘off’ with you for a while? Or perhaps you’ve accidentally stood on their tail and then been ignored for the rest of the day? No matter how much you apologise to them, you might worry that your cat is annoyed and holding a grudge against you. 

A tortoiseshell cat sat looking at the camera in front of a blurred background of green foliage

Can cats hold a grudge? 

Despite their sometimes aloof behaviour, cats don’t hold grudges in the same way humans do. Although cats do experience some of the same emotions that we do, such as joy, fear, sadness and anxiety, they don’t experience complex emotions such as resentment.

“While limited studies have been carried out about complex emotion in cats, studies have been carried out with dogs” says Daniel Warren-Cummings, who is a Clinical Animal Behaviourist registered with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. 

“These complex ideas, such as guilt or holding a grudge, are more often shown to be a human interpretation of the behaviour. The person thinks the animal might hold a grudge because they’ve done something to upset them, and then they look for behaviour cues from the pet that supports their narrative.”

The change in behaviour we interpret as a grudge, is often the cat’s natural reaction to a stressful situation. It’s a way of protecting themselves and avoiding a similar situation happening again. 

For example, when you take your cat to the vet, this can be a very stressful experience for them. When you get home from the vets, your cat might run away and hide for a while, avoiding you for the rest of the day. This can seem like they are holding a grudge against you for putting them through the ordeal of a vet visit. However, it’s actually their natural response to stress. They will hide away until their stress levels reduce.

Another example is if your cat doesn’t like being picked up and held. If you try to cuddle them every time they approach you, they will learn to associate you with something they find stressful. This association could cause them to avoid you, which you might see as them holding a grudge. However, they don’t actually feel any resentment towards you. They are just trying to avoid a situation that makes them feel stressed. 

How long does a cat hold a grudge?

How long a cat behaves differently after a stressful experience will depend on the length and intensity of the experience. Although they are not holding a grudge, they might have made a negative association between the experience and the person responsible. This might cause them to avoid that person for a while as a way of keeping themselves safe. 

How do I know if my cat is holding a grudge?

A black cat crouched down hiding underneath a yellow sofa

Signs your cat is stressed include:

If you notice any of these signs, leave your cat alone and allow them to hide if they want to. This will help to reduce their stress levels. It will also help prevent them from developing negative associations with you if you are the person responsible for their stress. 

How to make a cat forgive you 

In an ideal world you would avoid causing your cat any stress. However, some causes of stress are unavoidable for cats, such as taking them to the vet. Unfortunately, your cat won’t understand that you are doing it for the benefit of their health, so they may be ‘off’ with you for a while afterwards. 

If your cat has had a stressful experience, it can be tempting to make a big fuss of them as you try to beg for their forgiveness. However, this could just make them more stressed. 

“The best thing you can do is give them time and space,” Daniel explains. “If they otherwise have a good relationship with you and a good, stress-free home environment, their stress levels will soon reduce and things will go back to normal.”

Constantly checking on your cat while they are hiding away is likely to make them more stressed. This could also lead to them developing a negative association with you and avoiding you even more. 

If you notice that your cat is stressed, leave them alone and wait for them to come to you when they are ready for some attention. You could then try offering them a small treat, their favourite toy or a gentle fuss to regain their trust. 

Find more advice about cat stress. 

Find a Cat
About us