Can Cats Recognize Each Other’s Names?

While we all know how intelligent our feline companions are (biased as we may be), a recent Japanese study has added yet more proof. The study showed that cats living in the same household remember and recognize the names and faces of other cats living in the home—and even those of their owners.The study was conducted by Kyoto University and performed using 48 cats that lived with at least two other pets, living either in a family home or in a cat café. The study was focused on two experiments to attempt to understand the memory and cognitive ability of cats.In the first study, cats were shown a photo of another cat they lived with. Researchers called out a name—either of a companion cat or a completely unrelated name—and their responses were tracked. If a random name was called out, scientists noted that the cat would stare at the associated cat’s picture longer, indicating that the cat did not know the companion cat by name and face. All 19 of the cats from family homes stared at the photo longer when a random name was called.The scientists concluded that this reaction may have been due to the cat expecting the correct name—and then feeling confused when the correct name was not called out. Of course, there are some obvious limitations of the study, as ExcitedCats veterinarian Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg points out: “the time that a cat spends looking at a monitor is likely dependent on a multitude of factors, and a discrepancy between expected human utterance/name and a face shown is just one reason why a cat may potentially stare longer at an image.”

The study also found that cats who have lived in a family environment for a longer time were even more likely to stare at the photo of the “wrong” cat for an extended period while the cats from cafés did not show the same reaction. This is likely because cats from cafés are more likely to hear many different names from different guests, making memorizing them far more difficult. Also, the number of cats living in one space can influence a cat’s ability to identify names—the more cats, the more difficult it becomes.

Although many owners think cats seem to ignore them when calling their names simply because they don’t understand us—it turns out they’re likely just being, well, cats! Another recent study showed that it’s not just dogs that recognize their names—cats are perfectly capable of this too.

Another ExcitedCats veterinarian, Dr Lorna Whittemore (BVMS GPCertFelP), agrees: “This work follows on from a previous study showing that cats can differentiate their own names from other cat names and nouns. The intelligence of cats is sometimes underestimated but studies like these prove otherwise.”

A second experiment was done using 26 cats who were shown a picture of their owners. While this was less conclusive, the cats did recognize their owner’s faces for the most part, although the experiment showed that cats experience a stronger connection with other felines. The study succeeded to show that cats can link a companion feline’s name and face—and even a human’s—without any specific training. And this is all the more prevalent the longer two cats live together with their human family.

Cats are stereotypically aloof animals, and this and other studies show that this stereotype may be a bit unfair to our feline companions and that cats are far more attentive and present than we previously thought. While it’s an astonishing revelation and shows yet again that cats are far more intelligent than we tend to give them credit for, this is a relatively small study and larger experiments need to be done to warrant replication and thus more accurate results. Dr Maxbetter Vizelberg agrees: “These results may suggest that cats can learn names from observing interactions between humans, but we cannot necessarily definitively say anything from this study. That said, it is nice to know that there may be some evidence that Garfield knows the name ‘Jon Arbuckle’ is the guy who feeds him dinner!”

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