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Do Cats Know Their Names?

Do Cats Know Their Names?

Can cats recognize their names? Almost all cat owners have experienced calling their cat’s name over and over and getting no response. At times it can seem like your cat doesn’t know their name or is just ignoring you! As frustrating as this is, you’ll be happy to know there is an answer! Science proves that cats actually do know their names — well, kind of. They just don’t always show it in ways we understand.

Keep reading to find out why.

Your voice matters! 

According to the journal of Animal Cognition, cats are able to tell apart vocal cues between humans. Although cats have a reputation for being notoriously aloof, studies show that cats do respond to repetition and tone of voiceScience Direct describes this as a socially learned process, and that many animals are known to learn and display their abilities through social interactions.

How you speak to your kitty is also extremely important. Cats are sensitive creatures and have the capability to feel threatened or safe by your tone of voice and its loudness. The amount of times you call your cats name combined with the way you call his/her name sets the tone (pun intended) for how your cat might respond to you. This is especially true when you start to train your cat.

How Cats Show They Understand

The ways cats view their owners could have an impact on how they react to when their name is called. Dogs have been domesticated to listen to their owner’s orders, but cats have a different history. Humans did not domesticate cats – cats domesticated themselves.

TIME magazine suggests that cats actually see humans as clumsier, bigger cats whereas dogs see humans as their superiors. Because of this, cats have a very different way of responding to humans, and they also have different motivations to show they understand. Below are some ways you can tell if your cat understands you:

  • Orienting behavior: One of the ways in which you can tell if your cat understands their name is if they “orient” themselves towards you. According to the Journal of Animal Cognition, cats respond to human voices by doing things such as moving their tails and ears towards their owner’s voices!

 

  • They meow back: Cats have learned to meow through their interactions with humans. Meows are specifically for humans; cats don’t normally meow at other cats. When your cat meows at you, especially after you call your kitty’s name, then this is a direct response!

 

  • Treats are involved: This might be common knowledge, but cats are most motivated by… themselves! Their own needs and desires are a priority, so they will be more likely to respond to food instead of your voice.

Teaching Your Kitty to Respond

Most cat owners don’t realize how stressed their cats can get. Stress has a very negative impact on their health and relationship with you! This is important if you want your feline friend to respond positively to you. Below are tips on how to safely train your kitty to respond to their name:

1. Observe your kitty: The first step to teaching your kitty to respond requires you to fully understand your cat and its surroundings. John Bradshaw, a cat behavior expert at the University of Bristol, recommends first examining your cat’s social stage in life. The optimal time to teach your cat to be social is during “kittenhood.” This is when they are most absorbent to new information, just like humans!

2. Use positive reinforcement: Cats (unlike dogs) have no hierarchy of leadership. They are not drawn to obey their owners like dogs are. Instead, cats carefully construct a database in their heads over time. They understand patterns. Cats won’t come to you when they are called if they don’t know what will happen. Positive reinforcement is especially important if you want them to come to you when you call their name.

3. Reward immediately: Timing is essential with your kitty. Cats have short attention spans. If you want to reward them, you must do so immediately otherwise they might not understand why you are rewarding them.

4. Reward consistently: This is also another important part of training. Make sure you give your kitty the same reward consistently for whenever he/she does something you want them to do. It’s essential that you ensure those in your friend group and family to reward your cat in the same way.

5. Train at the appropriate time: Training before a meal (because we all know cats are most motivated by food!) is the best time to train your kitty. Be sure to only train for short periods of time – around 15 minutes. Once your kitty stops responding to you, that is your cue to stop training them at that moment. Don’t force training, otherwise they’ll start avoiding it.

**WARNING*** Never punish your kitty, especially in the wrong way. Yelling, hitting, or shaking your cat is NEVER OK. This will also make your cat confused and fearful of you, and may end up in your cat avoiding you completely.

The Final Answer? Yes!

It turns out, your cat does recognize his/her name…it just might not be 100% motivated to respond to you. However, just because this is the stereotype for cats doesn’t mean cats don’t love their owners just as much as dogs do. A study published in Feline Cognition & Behavior claims that cats actually prefer the company of other humans to food, catnip, and toys.

Remember that each cat is unique and behaves differntly.  Only you can know the true nature of your cat and the special relationship you two have.

Do you think your cat knows their name? Tell us in a comment below!

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Jenn is a cat enthusiast living in London, England. She is a strong advocate of rescue cat adoption and enjoys spending time with her two cats, Cookie and Garfield.

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5 Replies to “Do Cats Know Their Names?”

  1. We adopted a cat who apparently has been abused in some way. He is very skittish, only had him a month so it’s so progress.But not giving up on him.He needs lots of love,care & most of all …..Patience!

  2. I have four cats and I do think they all know their names. Sometimes they don’t respond to me but their ears twich my direction when I say their names. My one kitty is only about 6 months old and I I say her name in a asoft sort of baby talk voice she will meow at me.

  3. Absolutely! My grand kitty has lived back and forth between my son and I. He mostly lives with his Dad, but when we FaceTime he responds equally as well to each voice and definitely can recognize them from other people.

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