Do Cats know their Name & Owners Face?

Cats can be quite dismissive, unlike dogs that are always eager to please. After being blatantly ignored by your furry friend for the hundredth time, you begin to wonder, “Does this cat know its name?” “Does it even know me?” Well, science reveals that the answer to both questions is yes.

Research published in the Nature journal suggests that domestic cats do indeed recognize their names. The study involved 78 different cats from single homes, multi-cat homes, and cat cafes (a new cafe concept that blends coffee and cats) found that cats differentiate their names from similar-sounding names and other cats’ names.

Cat Calling

Cats have been with us for over 9000 years. Despite our long history of companionship, cats’ ability to commune with humans is still a puzzle. The little we know is that domestic cats are more communicative than wild cats, and their owners’ facial expressions and moods influence their behavior.

Besides, when given direction, cats can find hidden objects,’  and they can recognize their owners’ voices. But unlike parrots, dogs, apes, and dolphins, it remained a mystery whether they could identify specific words, like their names.

To find out if cats know their names, the University of Tokyo researchers conducted four experiments. They got cats to listen to a recording of voices saying four words plus a given cat’s name for each experiment.

Cute Cats
Cute Kittens

Cat Phonetics

In the first experiment, cats that live in single-cat homes listened to a recording of their owners saying four words that sound similar to their name, followed by their actual name.

In the second experiment that involved cats from cat café’s and multi-cat households, cats listened to the names of their ‘house mates,’ followed by their names. The third experiment was similar to the second one, except that cats listened to the first four words that are similar to their name, followed by their actual name. 

Finally, in the last experiment, cats listened to a stranger saying four words, followed by their names.

The findings showed that cats from single and multi-cat homes responded to either one or two of the words similar to their names, but by the time the fourth word was said, they had already tuned out.

However, when their names were said, the cats instantly responded – they perked up, moved their heads, wiggled their ears, and meowed.

The cats were responsive when their owners said their names as well as when strangers did. Atsuko Saito, a cat expert who was part of the study, suggests that cats likely learned to associate their names with rewarding experiences like petting and food.

Can Your Cat Identify Your Face? Do Cats View Us as We View Ourselves?

What does your cat see when they look at you? Well, cats see us through a uniquely feline lens. Understanding it can help you cultivate a healthier bond with your cat.

Does Your Cat See You in Color?

Technically, cats do see color. But they likely see us – and their environment – in uniquely feline light. This is because they don’t have the cones that react to red light.

Their world, therefore, likely looks yellow, gray, and blue. Cats are incapable of differentiating between greens and reds. So if your hair is bright red, your cat probably can’t tell.

However, research has found that they can see ultraviolet colors; humans can only see these colors under black light. Give many things, like flowers and birds possess ultraviolet coloration, cats likely see an incredibly vivid world.

Cats, however, may see you as a big blur if you’re too far away. The muscles in human eyes can shift the shape of the lenses so that you’re able to see objects at various distances.

Conversely, cats’ eyes lack these muscles, so they can only see objects from about six to 20 inches away.

In short, cats are nearsighted, color blind, and likely see their surrounding as it’s black-light-lit.

Do Cats Think we’re are a Different Species?

Cats behave as if humans giant fellow cats, albeit clumsy ones. When your cat rubs against you, they are essentially greeting you as they would a fellow cat.

This is unlike dogs that communicate and play with humans differently from other dogs; this suggests they can tell the difference.

The University of Bristol cat behavior researcher, John Bradshaw, suggests that cats probably think we’re super-clumsy. However, despite, what you may have learned from Internet memes, cats don’t view us as stupid inferiors.

One doesn’t greet their social inferiors in the feline social circles by purring, rubbing, as your cat does to you. That kind of treatment is reserved for bigger cats.

Your cat also likely sees you as a family member. When your cat squeezes their paws on you, they’re treating you how kittens treat their mothers; kittens ask for milk by kneading their mother.

Conversely, if your cat likes to “groom” you, they’re treating you like their kitten.

Can Cats Differentiate Human Faces

Cats aren’t very good at telling apart human faces. In a 2005 study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas set out to evaluate cats’ and dogs’ ability to tell apart objects and patterns.

When cats were shown their handler’s face vs. stranger’s face, it’s only in half of the cases that they recognized their handler’s face.

In another study in which cats were shown a familiar cat’s face vs. a strange cat’s face, they chose the familiar face in 90.7% of the cases.

In a similar study in which they were to choose between a picture of a familiar outside setting and an unfamiliar outside setting, cats chose the familiar scene in 85.8% of the cases.

Cats have an aptitude for visual recognition – but they’re not very good with human faces. 

To identify us, cats rely on other cues like our voices, our scent, and how we feel. The Tokyo University study revealed that cats react more strongly whenever they heard their owner’s voices.

Who is Charge?

Researchers found that cats are not inclined to respond when you try to call them while you’re out of sight in all these studies. Cats are, however, more responsive when they want to get into the house or be fed.

The Dog Advantage

The reason why cats aren’t as engaging as dogs is simple; dogs joined humans 20,000 years earlier. Since then, dogs have been selectively bred to be responsive and obedient.

Conversely, cats pretty much inserted themselves into human life when they tracked rats and mice into our earliest agricultural settlements, about 9500 years ago.

Evolution Process

Pets now spend more time indoors, unlike the old days when they only came in during bad weather or only at night. With cats spending more time inside, their ability to read and respond to human cues will likely improve. Social evolution is a gradual process.

That said, cats’ aloofness and selfishness are rather charming – when they want to be fed or touched, they come to you; when they want to do their thing uninterrupted, they leave. 

In a nutshell, cats do know their names. They likely know your voice and scent, but they probably won’t know you face half of the time. But regardless of how they view us, we all love our cats and delight in their unbridled independence and distinctly feline affection.