Every cat owner has wondered, at some point, does my cat understand me? In other words, can my cat understand human words? With dogs, it’s much more simplified with a grin, bark, or wag of the tail. Cats are generally quite harder to read, as we rely on behavior and body language to know how they’re feeling. Because of this, many label cats as cold-hearted creatures. But in reality, that’s just how they are! They are independent and intelligent beings! So when it comes to knowing if cats can actually understand us, you might find yourself surprised.
One thing that we can say confidently is that cats understand their own names. Of course, this may vary from cat to cat but if you’ve had your little furry friend for a while, they likely know their name by now!
Multiple studies have confirmed this to be true. A 2019 study in Japan had cats listen to their owners’ voices in order for them to recognize their own names. Moreover, the owner would first say words that have the same syllables and tone as their own name. Then, when the owner follows up with their real name, the researchers would study even the smallest change in behavior or body language. The study confirmed that cats can distinguish their own names, even in a mix of similar words. Cats can react to words in general, but there is indeed a change when you call their name. It can be as slight as moving their head or wiggling their ears!
It’s not clear, however, if cats know their name as their own identity. At the very least, they know the sound of their name carries a special meaning of some sort. Kind of like the sound of their plastic bag of treats being opened! Researchers call this ability a “salient stimulus” where cats associate certain sounds with rewards or positive affirmations. This skill can also be called “associative learning” of which all animals are capable of!
Try your own little experiment with your cat by saying four words similar to their names and follow up with their own name! And make sure you’re using an uplifting and positive tone in doing so.
Many have found that cats generally respond to higher pitched sounds, especially if you’re trying to call them over. If you are using a more neutral tone, chances are your cat will flat-out ignore you. This is due to the psychological concept called habituation, where an animal will ignore signals that don’t benefit them. This is why tone is very important whenever you want to communicate with your cat!
However, just because you’re using a positive tone with a command doesn’t always mean your cat will follow. Whenever you want to call over your cat, make sure you do so with purpose. Whether it leads to treats, playtime, or cuddles, your cat will gradually perk up every time you call their name!
This next fact also has some variance among cats, but just like dogs, many cats can understand basic commands such as sit, stay, food, and stand. They can also understand a stern “no” when needed. When we think of pet training, our minds default to training dogs. But cats have as much potential as dogs do when it comes to training!
The cat training process generally remains the same as with dogs. Some cats may seem stubborn at first, but with consistency and practice your cat will breeze through all of your commands! Don’t get discouraged if your cat walks away or snubs at you. Remember it’s just their independent spirit!
Will My Cat Understand If I “Meow”?
Sorry to break it to you, but human meows mean nothing to cats. At most, you can get your cat’s attention and they may even appreciate your attempts to communicate by purring or even meowing back. But to most cats, human meows sound like human language.
Natural cat meows have a certain sound to it that humans likely cannot match. Just like how cats can’t speak human languages, we can’t speak cat language. While it certainly can’t hurt to meow at your cat, you may have an easier time if you just stick to your own human language!
Cats meow at us to get our attention. They meow because they want us humans to do something for them. Always know that when your cat meows at you, they don’t do so to simply strike up a conversation. Most of the time they will meow and sometimes lead you to their desired request. Whether it’s a closed door, dirty litter, or empty food bowl, your cat will excessively meow at you until they get what they want.
Benefits of Talking to Your Cat
Especially with older cats, owners don’t find the need to talk with them. Whether cats can have intelligent conversations or not, it’s still very beneficial to talk to them. Talk to them when you get home, during play sessions, or even when you’re doing the dishes. When you regularly vocalize and gesture to your cat, you are ultimately strengthening the bond between you two.
Additionally, you will be able to understand how your cat perceives and how they react to things. Take these times to learn about their body language, and you will be able to gain valuable knowledge in understanding your cat! Not to mention, talking gently to your cat is good for your own mental health and well being!
Know That Your Cat Loves You!
Despite cats being independent and “anti-social”, know that your cat always loves and appreciates you! Communicating with them can be a bit difficult and it’s often hard to decipher what they want as well. Nevertheless, there are ways to communicate with your cat as long as you have positive reinforcements to back you up! If you are just dying to know what your cat is feeling, then there are plenty of resources to read a cat’s behavior and body language.
Research is still growing and working hard to this day in order to gain more insight into a cat’s understanding. For now, the best we can do is positively call their names and teach them commands. And lastly, your relationship with your cat is sure to grow if you chat with them on a daily basis!