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Do cats know their names?

Grey and white cat looking at the camera advice

Yes, cats do know their names.

© Unsplash

Cats are smart, wily creatures. They catch mice, find their way home and know exactly how to get you to stop doing what you’re doing to give them some attention. But, do they understand their own name?

By Natasha James

Published on the 07/09/2020, 17:00

Most cat owners feel sure that their cat understands them but do moggies really understand human words? Here, we delve deeper into this conundrum and share a handy test to help you find out if your cat knows her name.

Do cats understand human words?

Despite their steely exteriors, domestic cats are sensitive creatures and are very susceptible to the tone of voice we use. A cat can feel safe or threatened by our tone so we should bear this in mind.

If your cat reacts happily to the offer of some affection when you ask in a soft and gentle voice but ignores you completely when you’re stern, it’s likely to be your tone that they're responding to.

Proving how smart they are, they're likely to recognise words that have positive connotations. If you always ask them if they want “din dins” before meal times then it’s highly likely they’ll understand the term and come running when you call it.

So, can cats recognise their name?

The good news is, yes, cats can absolutely learn to recognise their own names. It’s likely to be the word you use most frequently to them and it’s probably mostly used in association with something positive like playtime or dinner.

Are there scientific studies to support the idea that cats can learn their name?

Behavioural scientist, Atsuko Saito carried out a series of tests with Sophia University in Tokyo to ascertain whether cats could differentiate between their name and similar sounding words and it turned out that the vast majority could.

The cats that took part in the study responded most positively to their owners calling their name but also responded with ear flicks and tail swishes to strangers too.

How can I find out if my cat knows her name? 

Here’s a simple experiment, based on the University of Tokyo and Saito’s experiment to work out if your cat knows their name: 

  • Say four random words to your cat, all with the same intonation and tone. 
  • Leave about 15 seconds between each
  • In the same tone, say their name. 
  • If your cat swivels their head or perks up their ears, it’s likely they know their name!

How can I teach my cat to learn his name?

It’s true that cats don’t learn “tricks” in the same way that dogs do but it’s absolutely possible to encourage them to respond to their name. Here are four tips for teaching your cat his name:

1. Use tasty treats

Cats aren’t especially motivated by praise so saying “good kitty” won’t achieve much. Have a stack of high-reward treats to hand and give them a treat when they turn at the sound of their name.

2.Time it wisely

Your cat will be more responsive to learning when she’s hungry. Wait until dinnertime and call her name, she’s far more likely to come when called because she knows there may be a tasty reward!

3.Use a soothing, coaxing voice

Use a soothing voice to call your cat and be prepared to wait. He may not pick up on it immediately but when he does, give him a treat as a reward and wait a while until you try again.

4.Link her name to positive activities

Once your cat recognises her name, only use it for positive activities – think dinner or playtime. Avoid using her name to scold her, this will undo your hard work and can make your cat feel nervous around you.

The final word on whether cats know their name

As any owner will attest, a domestic cat’s intelligence is in no doubt. Cats can and do learn all the time. They respond, they understand, it just depends on their mood whether they let you know about it or not - and we wouldn't have them any other way!

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