Domestic cats can distinguish their name from other spoken words, according to a study of 78 cats published in Scientific Reports.
Atsuko Saito and colleagues investigated whether cats could discriminate between their own name and other nouns or the names of other cats. Previous studies have shown that dogs can respond to human verbal commands, but the ability of cats to understand spoken gestures has been less well understood.
The authors studied a total of 78 cats from Japanese households and from a ‘cat cafe’. In the study, either one of the researchers or the owner would say four different words followed by the cat’s own name. Name recognition was defined as cats responding to their own name, (by moving their ears, heads or tail or vocalizing), and responding to the first presented words, but showing decreasing responses to the other words, namely habituation, prior to their own name. The cats were able to distinguish their name from words that had the same length and stress as the cat’s name.
The authors found that the cats were able to distinguish their name from other words even when an unfamiliar person was speaking. Cats from the cat cafe and household cats showed similar ability in recognizing their own names from general nouns, but cafe cats were less able to discriminate their own names from other cohabiting cats’ names. The authors suggest that this behaviour may have occurred because cafe cats frequently hear their own name alongside the names of the other cohabiting cats, making them associate all of the names with either a reward or punishment, rather than just their own name.