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Do Cats Recognize Different Faces?

Do Cats Recognize Different Faces?

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It goes without saying that you know your cat. You can easily tell your cat apart from others, and you are familiar with all of your cat’s physical features. 

You start to question: Does my cat recognize my face? Does my cat even know I’m not a cat?

Rest assured, your cat actually does recognize you – just not in the way you would think they would.

Cats actually have amazing memories and according to a study done by Pennsylvania State University. According to this study, cats can even pick out their owner’s face out of a row of life-sized headshots!

Your cat recognizes who you are, but do cats recognize faces in general? It’s a bit more complicated than you’d think. The answer? Interesting enough, science and history both lead to “not necessarily.”

Read below to find out why.

  In the past, cats had no real need to recognize multiple human faces

According to Smithsonian, cats actually domesticated themselves, willingly joining humans on their own accord. The domestication of cats occurred over 8,000 years ago. 

Long ago when humans were exclusively hunters and gatherers, dogs were very important. Cats didn’t come into our world until after humans had started farming and storing crops.

With the crops came mice, and with mice came the cats. These cats, completely delighted by the amount of prey at their paws, decided to stay.

Cats were not directly rewarded by humans; they were rewarded with the prey (rodents) that human activity gave rise to. There probably wasn’t a lot of face-to-face interaction between humans and cats because cats acted as the rodent clean up crew.

For dogs, it was very important to recognize and read human faces, but for cats, this just wasn’t the case — they didn’t have an real need to become familiar with multiple human faces until they were fully domesticated.

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Cats DO recognize their owner’s face – and very well!

There’s been plenty of speculation on how well cats recognize faces. According to the University of Michigan, cats can recognize faces faster and more efficiently than a supercomputer!

Cats are even the inspiration and model behind a biologically inspired intelligent computer at the University of Michigan.

2. Cats recognize our voices very well

A study by The University of Tokyo illustrated that cats can use vocal cues alone to differentiate between humans.

This study showed that when a cat was exposed to the owner’s voice, the cat showed signs of recognition either by tail waving, ear twitching, or dilated pupils.

When hearing their own names being called, they continued to display “orientating behavior”, signaling that they acknowledged the voice.

Their recognition process is completely different from ours. Although we use faces as a key identifier to distinguish between people, cats use a combination of different senses to identify individuals. Voices are probably the most distinctive characteristics to cats.

3. Cats recognize patterns that benefit them

Cats are fully aware of who distributes the food and water, gives them treats, and cuddles them at night.

This type of pattern recognition is very likely an ancient predatory instinct. They greatly rely on our body language, especially when it benefits them!

4. Cats recognize different scents

Cats have some of the best noses out there. They are very skilled at recognizing and distinguishing between different scents – including your own!

Your cat will certainly be able to distinguish your scent from other humans. Cats even deposit their scent on you by rubbing their head against you and marking you as familiar.


Yes, cats do recognize different faces, just not in the same way humans do. Cats recognize different individuals based on their face, smell, voice, and behavioral patterns.

In fact, cats are so finely tuned to how they perceive your “identity” that any changes in your appearance, scent, and behavior could give them anxiety.

Don’t be alarmed if your cat flees from you if they see you in your halloween costume or smell a new perfume that you’re trying out. It’s natural and your cat will adjust quickly.

Let this shed some light into understanding your kitty’s mentality and know that they are very special and wired differently than other house pets. Take comfort in the fact that your cat recognizes more than just faces!

**AUTHOR’S NOTE** My cat Cookie is just about as aloof as it gets… or so I thought! After moving abroad to London I come home only a few times out of the year.

When I do, my family notices an immediate change in Cookie’s behavior. She is more sociable, talkative, and active when I am around. We also grew up together.

QUESTION: Do you think your cat has a good memory?

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