Have you ever wondered if cats know their names? Unlike dogs, cats are not known for coming when called. But if your cat doesn’t move a whisker when you call its name, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t know its name.
According to a study published in 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports, cats do, in fact, recognize their own names. The lead author of the study is a behavioral scientist named Atsuko Saito from Sophia University in Tokyo, whose prior research demonstrated that cats can recognize their owners’ voices.
For the name recognition study, researchers observed cats living in ordinary households, as well as cats living in cat cafes. Although the cafe cats could distinguish their own names from general nouns, they were not able to distinguish their own names from the names of other cats living in the cafe. The house cats, on the other hand, were able to discriminate their own names from general nouns and from the names of other cats living in the home. This led the researchers to conclude that cats can differentiate the content of human language based on phonemic differences.
Why Is My Cat Ignoring Me?
If we know that cats are capable of recognizing their names, why don’t they come running when we call their names? It’s simply a case of a cat being a cat. Humans tend to compare cats and dogs, but we really shouldn’t expect the same types of behaviors from these two very different species. Our feline friends are aloof and more independent than dogs and don’t always see the need to respond when you say their name.
Some cats do come running when you call their name. If you have a cat like this, congratulations! Cats that readily engage with you and respond to your vocal utterances are lots of fun to live with. Such cats are often described as “dog-like” due to their extra devotion to their people.
Be Patient If You Change Your Cat's Name
There are some instances where a cat actually might not know its name, for instance, if you have a kitten who has been given its first-ever name, or if you bring home a newly adopted adult cat and choose a brand-new name. Adopted adult cats might even been on their third or fourth name, depending on the circumstances, so it’s understandable if they don’t respond to their newest name right away.
If your cat doesn’t react when you say its name, it’s possible that it doesn’t know its name yet. The good news is that cats can easily learn their new names. Although your cat would probably learn its new name with enough time, there are ways to speed up the name learning process a bit.
How to Teach Your Cat Its Name
You might be surprised to learn that you can train cats to recognize their name. You can teach your cat its name (or refresh its memory) the same way you can teach any new behavior. Follow these easy steps to teach your cat its name.
First, try not using your cat’s name too much. Saying your cat’s name over and over can lead your cat to tune it out like background noise. Especially when you are trying to teach your cat a new name, stick to using it during training sessions. Later, you can say the name more freely; your cat should now recognize it.
Next, create a positive association with your cat’s name by pairing the name with a tasty treat. Use something your cat really likes, such as tiny bits of plain chicken or a favorite treat broken up into small pieces.
Say your cat’s name, then immediately give it a treat. Say your cat’s name again, and give it another treat. Do this about 10 times within a few minutes time, then take a break. As the training sessions progress, be sure to mix your cat's name in with other words and talk as you usually would, but only reward with a treat when its name is said. This way, your cat will associate the treat with its name, rather than the sound of your voice alone. Practice the name game every day, about two to three times a day (morning, noon and night is good), for as long as it takes for your cat to recognized its name.
To test to see if your cat knows its name, say her name without holding a treat and see how it reacts. If it turns toward you (or comes running!), you have achieved success.
Hasegawa, Toshikazu, et al. Domestic Cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words. Scientific Reports, vol. 1, no. 9, April 2019. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40616-4
Shinozuka, Saito A., et. al. Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn, pp. 685–690 (2013), vol. 16, 2013. doi:10.1007/s10071-013-0620-4