Plenty of owners will tell you their cats are smart, compassionate and wonderful creatures. Scientists are curious about whether this is actually the case. Until this year, scientists weren’t even sure if cats knew their own names.
If you own a cat, you might be offended. Your cat responds to its name, right? But does it always come to you, or does it sometimes ignore you? Perhaps your cat responds even when you aren’t talking to them. So how can we test whether cats recognise their own names?
A team of Japanese scientists ran a series of carefully designed experiments to investigate how cats respond to their names. They got owners to talk to their cats and watched for the cats’ responses including ear movement, tail movement and the sounds they made. But there’s more to the task than simply calling a cat’s name.
Every trial, the owner would say several words before saying the cat’s name. Sometimes the words were similar to the cat’s name and sometimes they were the names of other cats that lived in the same household.
The cats would respond to the first word, and gradually ignore their owners as they kept talking. But when they heard their own names, they perked up again! Well a little bit, but not much.
So the results are in. In most cases, cats living in homes know the names we call them. Be comforted the next time your cat ignores you calling their name. They know, they just don’t care.
Do you love pets? Double Helix Issue 32 explores the deep bond between humans and animals. Back issues of Double Helix magazine can be purchased at the CSIRO Publishing website.