DOMESTIC cats and dogs are the most popular companion animals. Worldwide, over 600 million cats live with humans, and in some countries their number exceeds the number of dogs. For example, in Japan, there are 8,920,000 dogs, while cats number 9,526,000. Cats started to cohabit with humans about 9,500 years ago. Cats, too, have developed behaviors related to communication with humans.
Sometimes you call their name, and they just keep walking away. Cats are notorious for ignoring their owners, but a new study suggests they recognize the sound of their names. A group led by Sophia University Associate Professor Atsuko Saito has reported the results of its experiment in the British journal, Scientific Reports. “Some owners insist that their cats can recognize their own names and words related to food,” wrote the researchers. “Therefore, we can make the following hypothesis: cats can discriminate words uttered by humans from other words – especially their own names – because a cat’s name is a salient stimulus as it may be the human utterance most frequently heard by domestic cats and may be associated with rewards, such as food, petting, and play.” In the study, the researchers ran four experiments with 16 to 34 animals. Each cat heard a recording of its owner or another person saying its name, or another cat’s name, or a noun of similar length. The researchers observed when cats hear their own names they react more strongly, moving their heads, ears and tail.
The results do not suggest that cats assign a sense of self to their names, but rather that they are trained to recognize a sound; a sound that could mean something good, like a treat or a toy, or something bad, like a trip to the vet.
Now there’s scientific evidence to back up your suspicions. Your cat understands that you’re calling their name – they just don’t care.