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"Here, kitty, kitty!" Sound familiar? You put time and care into picking the perfect name for your cat, only to fall back on this common phrase. You have to wonder if your cat even recognizes the name you have given her. So, do cats recognize their names and just choose to ignore when they're called, like the finicky creatures they are or can you train cats to respond to their names? Read on to find out.
Do Cats Know Their Names?
It's no secret that cats are highly intelligent creatures. They're keenly aware of their surroundings and will let you know if something isn't to their liking, either through nonverbal communication (knocking a cup of coffee onto your laptop) or with their own cat language (howling at your bedside at 3:00 a.m.). But do cats recognize their names when their pet parents call to them?
According to a study conducted at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, cats do seem to recognize their names as distinct from other words. A study published by Scientific Reports explains that data shows that cats do, indeed, respond differently to their own names than to other words with similar sounding vowels, consonants and syllable lengths. However, the authors conclude that it's unclear whether cats understand their names as an identifying label.
Dr. Jennifer Vonk, a professor specializing in animal cognition, tells National Public Radio that she agrees with the study's authors. We can't conclude that cats understand a name as representing their identity. What is certain, though, she says, is that your cat recognizes her name as a "special signal, probably associated with rewards such as food and petting."
Naming Your Cat
Think of the names of your favorite characters from books, movies or TV shows, your favorite musicians or actors.
Tasked with coming up with names for an entire litter, Tails Humane Society in DeKalb, Illinois once named each kitten after famous classical composers.
Look everywhere for inspiration!
If you've adopted an older pet, explains Petful, or one who has come from a stressful environment, they "may need the stability of their old name to help them adapt to a new home," so be mindful of any changes.
Training Cats to Respond to Their Names
Training a cat to respond to her name, as with any kind of behavioral process, is most effective when it's slow and steady; patience pays off immensely. And cats tend to respond to their names when treats are involved, so keep the kibble on hand.
Your cat may respond to her name vocally, but will more likely have a nonverbal response. Pay close attention to her body language (cats' main form of communication) — a swish of the tail here, perked ears there — to determine whether she's responding.
As the Scientific Reports research demonstrates, cats can respond when anyone says their name, not just their pet parents, so be sure to have other household members and guests interact with your kitty, too. The more she hears her name, the more likely she'll respond.
Think of how fantastic it will be when your fur cat comes running to you when she hears her name called!
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.