Cats Know Their Own Names but Don't Want You to Know

Cats can recognise their name in a string of words but don't care much.
Jessica Miley

Dogs will come running when you call their name, but what about cats? New research shows that despite some cats lack of interest in their given name, your furry friend can pick out its name from a string of words.


Previous studies have shown that cats, dolphins and even parrots have the ability to recognize their given names but researchers weren’t so sure about felines. New work from scientists at the Sophia University in Japan, has proven that cats can actually recognize their name.

Cats recognize owners voice

There hasn’t been too much scientific work in this area before and the same techniques used for dogs wouldn’t work with cats. The research team led by Dr. Atsuko Saito devised a novel way to test their theory.

Cats were placed in a room while a voice saying four words followed by the name of the cat was played. The intonation and pace of the voice were the same for all four words and name.

Cats are listening but not responding

The scientist observed the cats during the recordings noting the animal's responses. Despite the cats barely responding to the words in most cases, the researchers were lucky to observe a slow tail movement.

They have concluded that cats can understand their name when called. Based on a four-point scale of how much each cat responded, the researchers say it is clear the cats know who they are.

In the first round of testing the cat was played the recordings of the four words as spoken by their owners. 11 out of the 16 cats displayed a drop off in their movements during the first four words which suggested the cats were used to their owner's voice. 9 of the cats displayed an uptick in their movement when their name was mentioned suggesting they pricked up their ears when their name was called.

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Do cats know they have a name?

The experiment was repeated with a different group of cats using a strangers voice saying the words and names and then repeated for a third time again with the owner's voice but to a group of cats who were used to living with many other felines.

In every scenario, Saito and his team said that it was clear the cats could recognize its name. However, it isn't clear if the cats actually understand that the word they are responding to is their name.

Saito suggests the word is recognizable due to its strong correlation with reward and punishment. What it does prove is that once again cats are pretty standoffish.

Previous studies have shown that cats can definitely recognize their owners' voice, but few bothered to give any public acknowledgment of the fact.

Critics of the recent study say that the research hasn’t proven that cats know their names, but merely that they can recognize familiar sounds. For a cat, their name could just as easily be the sound of you shaking their box of food for all they care. 

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