do cats know their names

Do Cats Know Their Names?

Whenever you call your cat, you may be wondering whether they can actually recognize their own name or not. It may seem like it, the way their little ears perk up and they come running over to you, but we cannot be entirely sure whether they understand the name that you have given to them. However, there are other times when it may seem like your cat ignores you entirely. There has been some recent research conducted that has shown that cats do indeed known their names. Of course, since accurate communication with animals is still only something you see in Dr Doolittle, we still cannot say anything with certainty! But here is a breakdown of some of the information we know so far.

Domestic cat at home

What to Cats Recognize and Respond to?

It certainly seems conclusive that cats respond to human voice, and they demonstrate this through their ear and head movements. However, your tone of voice can have a big impact on whether your cat listens or not. Harmonics and pitch have been shown to have an impact on getting your kitty’s attention. It also appears that cats recognize their owner’s voice specifically. When you speak to your cat, you probably do so in a specific way. Many people use a high-pitched voice with an almost musical harmonic, and this helps your cat know that you are talking to them.

If you are struggling to get your cat to respond to their name, you could try using a system of positive reinforcement. For example, call your cat first, but if they don’t come, shake a bag of food or jangle a toy. Your kitty should soon start to make a positive association between their name and the nice thing that you are offering. And if you have adopted a cat who has already been named, you may want to keep it the same to offer a sense of consistency. Otherwise, things are likely to get a lot more confusing for your four-legged friend, and you are less likely to see positive responses when you call them.

Do Cats Respond Better to Certain Names?

Studies have shown that cats respond better to names that are shorter in length, and those that have an ‘e’ sound at the end. Whether it is ‘Tilly’ or ‘Davy’, this is the kind of name that can ring out with the musical quality that we discussed in the previous paragraph. Once you settle on a name, you should continue with it consistently as this will give your kitty the best chance of getting used to it and responding to it in the future.

Why Do Cats Ignore Us Sometimes?

The strange this is that while many cats respond a lot of the time, there are other occasions when your moggy seems to ignore you entirely. It could be that they are occupied with an otherwise more interesting task like playing or eating. Or they could actually be giving us the cold shoulder. If you have a more aggressive tone to your voice or you often yell at your cat, they are less likely to come running to you. However, if they associate their name with good things like getting some affection and getting fed, it is much more likely that you are going to be able to call your cat. If you are struggling to get your cat’s attention, this task will be made much easier if you have some cat treats or their favorite cat toy to act as a bribe!

Why Are Dogs Better at Responding Than Cats?

Dogs are born with an inbuilt advantage that makes it easier for them to be trained in voice commands. Over three years, people have bred dogs to be responsive and obedient towards humans, but the same cannot be said of cats, who have essentially domesticated themselves when humans worked out that they would be useful in catching mice and rats around settlements. Not only this, but domesticated dogs have been around for thousands of years more than cats! And we have worked out tried and tested methods of training dogs, which begins with ensuring that they respond to their names. They are also more responsive to treats. But this doesn’t mean that cats won’t become more responsive in the future.

Young cat lying on the bed

Can Cats Learn Their Name?

One of the biggest factors that determines whether or not your cat will respond to your voice is how hungry they are. If your cat is in need of food, it is much more likely that they will have their ears pricked up listening to you. Use food as a reward but bear in mind that if you do it too much, your cat will always think that they are about to be fed when you call their name. If you decide to adopt a kitten, it is important that you start voice training them from a young age. Young cats have an early human association period that can begin as early as 17 days into their life. You need to get your cat used to being touched, as well as the sound of your voice, showing them that there is nothing to fear.

Final Thoughts

We cannot be entirely certain whether or not cats respond to their names, but they do seem to be able to recognize the voice of their owner. Also, the use of a specific pitch and singsong quality to your voice can help them to understand that you are speaking to them. The use of food is good in reinforcing the sound of their name as well. As cats continue to become closer and closer to humans, there is every chance that they will develop their skills in being able to read and respond to our body language and voices. So, the cats of the future may end up being much more trainable like dogs, and isn’t this something that every feline lover would like to see?

You may also like our article on: Can Cats Count?


  1. Ken Lambrecht, DVM, Do Cats Know Their Names?, PetMD
  2. Dr. Sarah Wooten DVM, Why Don’t Cats Come When Called?, VetStreet

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