Do Cats Know Their Names?

Do Cats Know Their Names?


By Morgan Cutolo, Reader's Digest

Cats might be skilled in knowing how to always land on their feet, keep themselves clean, and strategically knock things off the counter, but do they know their own names? When you call their name and they actually come, is it because they hear you getting their food ready, or is it because they know exactly what you said? Make sure to avoid these dangerous mistakes that cat owners should never make.
Do Cats Know Their Names?
© Nils Jacobi/Getty Images

What noises do cats recognize?

“While cats might not always understand what exactly we’re saying, they definitely can learn to associate sounds with good or bad outcomes, such as the sound of the treat bag rattling or the vacuum cleaner turning on,” says Mikel Delgado, Cat Behavior Expert with Rover. “When you talk to your cat, they probably respond most to your tone of voice. People tend to talk to their pets in higher-pitched voices which are good at getting their attention.”

Cats can also recognize noises that indicate food or attention is coming. That might be the pantry door opening where they know their food is or the sound of your car coming up the driveway. They associate those sounds with a positive experience, so they learn to recognize what they mean.

Do cats know their name?

A 2019 study found that cats respond more to the sound of their own name than any other words. In the study, researches would say four different words to the cat that were the same length and had the same accents as their own name. If that cat responded differently when it heard its own name, the researchers knew it could differentiate its name from other words.

Delgado adds, “Over time, our pets do learn to associate their name with certain things—like attention, or food. You can help your cat learn their name faster by not using lots of different nicknames, which might be confusing to your pet and they may not always realize that you are speaking to them. Being consistent sends a clear message.” However, if you're doing any of these things that your cat actually hates, they might just ignore you completely.

Would your cat recognize their name if called by a stranger?

“Your cat is more likely to respond to their human’s voice versus a stranger’s voice,” says Delgado. “In fact, a study in Japan found that cats showed more behavioral responses when they heard their parent’s voice calling their name than to a stranger’s voice.”

Can you train them to know other words besides their name?

You can train a cat to respond to words the same way dogs do. You can teach them to sit, stay, high-five, go to their bed, or do an agility course. You just have to be motivated to train them. In order to train, Delgado says you first need to identify what motivates your cat, like a particular treat or toy. Then start with something simple such as sit.

“Over time, your cat makes the connections between their behavior, your response or the sound, and the treat,” says Delgado. “Then when they want a treat, you might notice that they offer the behavior you trained—such as sitting or rolling over—which is why it’s a good idea not to train your cat to do annoying things.” If you're looking to adopt a cat that you want to train, these are the friendliest cat breeds.

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