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Home > Cats > Does Your Cat Recognize Your Voice? What Science Says

Does Your Cat Recognize Your Voice? What Science Says

domestic cat lying on floor and looks up attentively to something it hears

We know that our canine friends recognize our voices because they’re eager to listen when we call. But have you ever wondered whether felines recognize our voices as well? After all, cats are notorious for not paying attention when their humans speak and acting as if they don’t even know us. So, do they not recognize our voices, or is something else going on?

According to a study by the University of Tokyo, cats do recognize their owners’ voices!1 However, they choose to ignore you when you’re talking (a surprise to no cat parent). Wondering why that is? Then keep reading as we break it down!

divider-cat The Study

In the study done by researchers from the University of Tokyo, 20 felines were kept in their normal home environment and played recordings of both their owners’ and strangers’ voices over eight months to see how they would respond. Overall, they found that the cats reacted to all the voices but had the most reaction to their owner’s voices. However, none of the felines had overt reactions to the voices (such as coming when called).

So, how did the researchers quantify how the cats were reacting? The felines’ reactions were measured by analyzing body language. Some of the reactions the researchers looked at were the movement of the tail, ears, and head, along with dilation of the eyes and the cat vocalizing in kind. The majority of a cat’s reaction appeared to be moving the head or ears towards the voice, indicating it was heard. Besides that, the study found that many cats had dilated pupils when their owners’ voices were heard, signifying an emotional change (like happiness or excitement).

Other than that, though, the felines had no other reactions to any of the voices. So, your kitty recognizes your voice; they just aren’t responding to it.

close up image of cat's ears and eyes
Image Credit: effective stock photos,Shutterstock

Why Don’t Cats Respond?

So, if your kitty recognizes you when you call their name, why exactly isn’t it responding? Blame history and evolution! It’s not a certainty, but the researchers’ theory on the lack of response from our feline companions came down to how cats were domesticated some 9,000 years ago. Unlike canines that were trained to obey human commands, cats were given free rein.

After all, cats just sort of volunteered themselves up as pest catchers way back when, whereas dogs were domesticated and then specifically bred to listen to humans when we speak. (And you don’t need to listen to humans when your job is to be a mouse catcher!) So, when you consider those felines pretty much domesticated themselves, it makes sense they consider themselves beholden to no one—even their owners.

a cute bright orange cat wearing fabric collar sitting on the seat inside the car
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

divider-cat Final Thoughts

Your favorite feline definitely recognizes your voice when you speak to it. It just doesn’t really care (which you can blame on thousands of years of self-domestication and evolution). But such is the way of cats—after all, who belongs to who in the cat/human relationship?

Keep on talking to your kitty, though! Our cats tend to enjoy us talking to them (as evidenced by those dilated pupils observed in the study), even if they don’t respond. Plus, talking to your pet benefits you both!


Featured Image Credit: Dima Berlin, Shutterstock

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