Domestic cats have the ability to respond to the sound of their names, a new study from Japan says.
While this bit of knowledge may not surprise cat owners, it is the first experimental evidence that the animals can actually discern human speech, researchers pointed out.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, gathered the results from four experiments with 16, 34, 29 and 33 cats, respectively, who live in homes and cat cafes.
Each cat heard a recording of its owner or a stranger’s voice, which recited a list of four nouns — including other cats’ names — followed by its actual name.
Results showed that cats react upon hearing their names — moving their heads or ears, wagging their tails or vocalizing. However, whether they are actually attached to a meaning is uncertain.
Instead, they learn their name when it is followed by rewards or even negative events such as a trip to the vet, said researcher Atsuko Saito of Sophia University, according to the Associated Press.
“These results indicate that cats are able to discriminate their own names from other words,” the study said. “We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances based on phonemic differences.”
Monique Udell, who also studies animal behavior at Oregon State University, said that the study confirms that “cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learning from it.”
While the ability of dogs to learn human words has been thoroughly studied, little is known about such processes in cats. For now, Saito and the team believe that the cats’ ability to distinguish their name can be used to improve their quality of life.
“Perhaps we can get cats to learn that dangerous objects or places are referred to by specific utterances,” the researchers wrote. “This work has shed new light on the ability of cats to communicate with humans; further clarifying cats’ abilities with respect to cat–human communication will potentially enhance the welfare of both humans and cats.”