Study Says Cats Know Their Names, But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Respond

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I’m not sure we really needed a study to determine that cats recognize their own names, but Japanese researcher Atsuko Saito set out to test this hypothesis by observing a total of 78 house cats as well as cats living in cat cafés in Japan. Her past studies have revealed that cats can interpret human gestures to find hidden food, recognize their owner’s voice, and beg for food from a person who looks at them and calls their name—all of which suggested that cats know their names.

The researchers asked both owners and strangers to call a cat’s name, and then videotaped responses that would indicate recognition, such as ear and head movements and tail swishing. The cats showed interest not only when their owners called their names, but even when strangers did.

Dogs come when you call them, cats take a message and get back to you.

We’ve all heard that quote. And not surprisingly, Saito’s study found that cats aren’t quite as enthusiastic about responding to their name being called as dogs are. I found it fascinating that Saito suggested that some of that may be due to evolution. Dogs have been bred for centuries to be obedient and responsive, whereas cats essentially domesticated themselves as they began to follow mice and rats into human settlements.

Evolution in progress

While I don’t think any of us who share our lives with cats are surprised that cats recognize their names (and tend to ignore us if they feel like it,) I found it interesting that Saito notes that cats are still evolving. With more and more cats spending their lives inside, in closer contact with humans, a cat’s ability to read and respond to our cues may become even stronger. “Social evolution is an ongoing process,” Saito concludes.

For more information about the study, visit National Geographic.

Do your cats come when you call them? All the time? Most of the time?

12 Comments on Study Says Cats Know Their Names, But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Respond

  1. Deb
    April 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm (3 weeks ago)

    I’ve always known that my cats know their names. Every time I call one of their names the one whom I’m calling will look at me while the other 2 will not. I love it when they decide to come running to me when I call them by their respective names.

    Reply
  2. Sandy Weinstein
    April 27, 2019 at 2:23 pm (3 weeks ago)

    i think they must be talking abt my dogs as well. sometimes they will come and other times they just look at me, like i am crazy.

    Reply
  3. Kathy S
    April 27, 2019 at 8:41 am (3 weeks ago)

    I have two that know their names. Not only will the correct cat look at me when I call his/her name, but that cat will also come and sit on my lap when his/her name is called.

    Reply
  4. Debi
    April 26, 2019 at 2:25 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Now that my senior kitty is totally deaf, I use hand signals to communicate. I still talk to her though, and it sometimes seems she is reading my lips, …or my mind…lol! She communicates just fine with loud meows or other vocalizations. <3

    Reply
  5. Debi
    April 26, 2019 at 2:21 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Now that my senior kitty is totally deaf, I use hand signals to communicate. I still talk to her though, and sometimes it seems she’s reading my lips, …or my mind…lol! She communicates with me just fine with loud meows and other vocalizations.

    Reply
  6. Cindy Lou
    April 26, 2019 at 1:47 pm (4 weeks ago)

    I have 2 Ragdolls (sister and brother) and they definitely know their names. They come when called the same way my dogs do. They rarely ignore us when called or yelled at! lol

    Reply
  7. Sue Brandes
    April 26, 2019 at 12:10 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Mine know their names but; don’t really come when called. They will look at you and talk to you though.

    Reply
  8. Patricia
    April 26, 2019 at 11:18 am (4 weeks ago)

    Of course they KNOW their names! They just choose to respond on their terms. I have one, Gaby who will frequently (not always) look at me can walk to me quickly. The other two, meh, they choose not to respond most of the time. Tippy will respond when hear hears sounds that indicate they are about to be fed. Mitzy, nope, nope, nope! She will look at me sometimes but she NEVER comes. It’s really amazing how they have such individual personalities. And this kitty committee rarely stops at NO where as my previous cats would stop in their tracks. These I have to threaten with a spray bottle and sometimes the learn sometimes not.

    You know, maybe that’s why we love cats so much. They are a challenge that keep our minds active rather than being as immediately compliant as dogs. I know I enjoy seeing their response to different stimuli.

    Reply
    • Patricia
      April 26, 2019 at 11:21 am (4 weeks ago)

      (Me to myself) Trish you should really proof your comments before you publish them! Sorry everyone for the typos.

      Reply
  9. Pat Wolesky
    April 26, 2019 at 10:01 am (4 weeks ago)

    They respond when it suits them. They also know each others names, and if I say to Coco “Where’s Calypso?” she will often look at or go to Calypso, and vice versa. BTW, deer also learn to know their names and respond when a human they know calls them. Animals are smart.

    Reply
  10. Darlene
    April 26, 2019 at 8:13 am (4 weeks ago)

    Cats have selective hearing! My cats do know their even the strays that I name outside knows their name and when I call them they will come for they know when I call them is because I am feeding them.

    Reply
  11. Janine
    April 26, 2019 at 7:29 am (4 weeks ago)

    Mine are stubborn and often just look at me when I say their names. But, if I call Kiki in a certain tone of voice she will come running really fast, That tone of voice means I spotted birdies outside the window and she knows she is on for some excitement.

    Reply

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