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Surprising study suggests dogs and cats also get déjà vu

A Weimeraner dog stands on a beach and looks back dog-cat-wow
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An owner-led study of dog and cat memory reveals the startling possibility that non-human animals may recollect past events years into the future, just like us.

By Nick Whittle

Published on the 29/02/2020, 19:00, Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:32


Researchers from Denmark called on 375 dog and cat owners to respond to their quest to find out whether pets spontaneously recall events. The respondents were asked to note the occasion on which their pet remembered a past event, and to report their findings to the research team.

The researchers, headed up by psychologists Amy Lewis and Dorthe Berntsen of Aarhus University were specifically interested in moments of recollection that were not associated with time-honoured routines such as walks and mealtimes.

The results

According to Ms Lewis and Frk. Berntsen, 80% of owners reportedly noticed their pet exhibit episodic memory. Memories appeared to be triggered by a visit to a specific location or a meeting with another dog or person.

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The team came to the conclusion that dogs and cats exhibit roughly the same number of recollections as each other, but that the episodic memory of dogs was more positive. On the other hand, cats tended to respond more positively to aural, rather than visual, triggers.

Writes the Mail Online, Lewis concludes, “Both cats and dogs have event memories.

“More than half of event memories described events that occurred once, suggesting the recall of temporally specific events."

The full findings of the study are published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.