The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Study backs up what owners already know: Cats don't care

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Japanese researchers have tested whether or not cats recognize their owners' voices. The good news: they can. The bad news: they're probably going to ignore it.

Two researchers, Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka, out of the University of Tokyo conducted an experiment to examine communication between cats and humans. The results were published in Animal Cognition and titled "Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus)."


Here's how it worked: There was a small sample size of 20 cats from 14 homes tested. Nineteen of the cats were indoor cats, who had been adopted as kittens and spayed/neutered. One cat was an outdoor cat, living it up at a college campus.

Each owner was recorded calling their cat the way they normally would, including by any nickname. Then four people of the same sex as the owner were recorded making the same call. The cats, with their owner nowhere to be seen, were exposed to three strangers' voices calling for them, then their owner, and then another stranger. The cats' responses to the recordings was then evaluated. The evaluators looked at ear, head, and tail movements, along with pupil dilation, any sound the cat made, and whether the cat walked anywhere. Also evaluated was the magnitude of the response, a tail twitch versus a tail lash, for example.


Generally, the cats reacted less and less to each stranger's call, and then reacted more strongly to their owner's voice. But even then, the reactions were more of the "where's the voice coming from" kind than the "I should respond to that" kind. They moved their heads and ears more when they heard their owners, but didn't meow or go towards the voice.

Saito and Shinozuka drew this conclusion from the results:

Although cats utilize specific purring for solicitation (McComb et al. 2009), these results indicate that cats do not actively respond with communicative behavior to owners who are calling them from out of sight, even though they can distinguish their owners' voices.


In searching for an explanation, the researchers drew comparisons between the cat-human relationship and the dog-human one. The study points out that the longest we can put cat domestication is at 9,500 years ago, whereas dogs were likely domesticated 15,000 years ago. Additionally, cats "domesticated themselves" to get at the rodents going after the grain stores of humans. Dogs, on the other hand, have been bred by humans to do what we tell them. Which helps explain why dogs are so good at reading cues from humans. We selected for that in our breeding of them. Cats . . . not so much. The study points out:

Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humans' orders. Rather, they seem to take the initiative in human–cat interaction.


This rings true for anyone who has woken up to cat's demands for food but can never find a hiding cat, no matter how many times (or how desperately) they call their name.

And while cats don't seem to care we're calling, we likewise don't seem to care that they're not responding. People do believe that dogs are more affectionate, but cat owners are just as attached to their pets as dog owners. We don't think they're as affectionate as dogs, but we love them just the same. Why? Saito and Shinozuka don't know, saying:

[T]he behavioral aspects of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them are still undetermined.


There you have it: science doesn't know what it is cats do to make us love them.

via The Independent

Top image: Black and white fluffy cat by Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

image: Spooky on my laptop by gillicious/Flickr