Contrary to what your cats would have you believe, they do recognize your voice.

By Seriously Science | December 10, 2013 7:00 am

There are those of us who believe that our cats love us, and then there are these scientists, who questioned whether cats can even recognize the sounds of their owners’ voices. In this study, they wanted to determine whether a cat was responding specifically to its owner’s voice (rather than just any old voice). To do this, they “habituated” the cats to people calling their name by having three strangers say the cat’s name. By the third time, the cat’s ears barely twitched. Then the owner said the cat’s name, and the cat responded, indicating that it could tell the owner’s voice was “special”. This still doesn’t prove that the cats like us more than they would a food-dispensing robot, but hey, it’s progress.

Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus).

“Domestic cats have had a 10,000-year history of cohabitation with humans and seem to have the ability to communicate with humans. However, this has not been widely examined. We studied 20 domestic cats to investigate whether they could recognize their owners by using voices that called out the subjects’ names, with a habituation-dishabituation method. While the owner was out of the cat’s sight, we played three different strangers’ voices serially, followed by the owner’s voice. We recorded the cat’s reactions to the voices and categorized them into six behavioral categories. In addition, ten naive raters rated the cats’ response magnitudes. The cats responded to human voices not by communicative behavior (vocalization and tail movement), but by orienting behavior (ear movement and head movement). This tendency did not change even when they were called by their owners. Of the 20 cats, 15 demonstrated a lower response magnitude to the third voice than to the first voice. These habituated cats showed a significant rebound in response to the subsequent presentation of their owners’ voices. This result indicates that cats are able to use vocal cues alone to distinguish between humans.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: fun with animals
  • mhollis

    Cats know how you’re feeling, too. They don’t care, but they know.

  • gabrielle

    I agree that my cats know my voice. They will hear me come into the parking lot, talking on the phone or to my boyfriend and wake up, ready to greet me when I walk in the door. cats are much smarter than we give them credit for. But this study seems small. And perhaps it’s the explanation, but it doesn’t seem like it’d produce very accurate results based on the testing manners.

  • Dante

    My cats will run and hide when strangers come in the house, however when I come home and open the door I will say, “Daddy’s home!” and they will stop running to hide and come towards the door!

  • AnneMarieHislop

    I know that cats respond to the owner’s voice. A few years ago I left my cat with a friend for 6 weeks. When I got back, I parked in their driveway. As I approached the porch where my friend stood, I spoke to her about my car (never mentioning the cat). I did not see the cat on the porch because she was behind a chair. All of a sudden she jumped up on a table and began looking rapidly from side to side looking for the sound of my voice. There is no doubt that she knew it…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Nik Keun

    When I returned to France from a four month visit to the UK with my cat, I was about four miles from ‘home,’ when the cat who had been sleeping in the passenger footwell, jumped onto the seat and began assiduously sniffing the air from the ventilator/heater vent. She then climbed onto the dashboard, and attempted to leave the car. She could obviously smell ‘home’ from several miles away. What smell was so specific to ‘home’ compared to hundreds of miles of the French countryside I have no idea, but she could detect it.

  • Sootica

    My cat recognizes my cough from outside a closed door!

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