Do Cats Recognize Their Names?

Do Cats Recognize Their Names?

A kitten paws its owner's face.A kitten paws its owner's face.
A kitten paws its owner's face.A kitten paws its owner's face.

Whether the perfect cat name struck you like a sudden bolt of inspiration or the moniker arrived after careful deliberation, you’ve probably got one big question on your mind: “Does my cat recognize their name?”

Veterinary psychology expert Dr. Atsuko Saito has heard this question countless times throughout her career. Cats everywhere often earn their aloof reputation by appearing not to recognize their names when owners call them. A 2019 study led by Saito and her colleagues at Tokyo’s Sophia University found that cats not only recognize their names, but will respond to hearing them.

Do Cats Understand Their Names?

Yes. Experts believe cats recognize the sound of their names and that they will respond to hearing them. Saito and her team tested this hypothesis by studying 78 Japanese cats. The team conducted four separate experiments, each involved calling a cat’s name and taping their response to watch for signs of recognition like tail swishing or head and ear movements. A sequence of four separate tests confirmed that cats will respond to their names. They even responded to strangers and reacted to their name while ignoring similar-sounding ones.

How Do Dogs and Cats Compare?

Studies like the one conducted by Saito and her colleagues suggest that cats do not respond as enthusiastically to the sound of their name as dogs do. This probably has to do with centuries upon centuries of careful breeding. Many breeds of dog were domesticated for essential purposes like farming, herding, and home security. Obedience was an important prerequisite for serving owners in these capacities. Effectively, dogs have a tendency to listen and answer to their name built into their DNA. While cats learn to associate their name with reward or punishment, a dog’s reaction to their name may come from an innate tendency toward responsiveness.

More Studies of the Feline Personality

Over the years, researchers have helped clear up a number of common cat misconceptions.

  • Cats do form bonds with their owners: A team at Oregon State University, led by Dr. Kristyn Vitale, used a secure base test to assess the bonding tendencies of cats. This test, the same type employed to assess dogs, primates, and children, involves periods of bonding and separation. It found that cats form bonds with their caretakers much the same way that human infants and other animals do.
  • Cats can communicate with their owners: In 2020, a team of experts at the University of Sussex attempted to determine whether cats communicate with humans the same way they do with other cats. In addition to the more obvious signs like vocalizations, cats communicate among themselves by slowly narrowing and blinking their eyes. The experiment’s findings suggest that cats will exchange slow blinks with caretakers and narrow their eyes toward trusted companions to communicate their positive feelings.

Thanks to studies like these, cat people can feel more confident in their choice of four-legged companion. Next time someone suggests that cats are cold, unfriendly, or standoffish, tell them you’ve got the research to refute them.

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