Cats Know Their Names But Don’T Care

It’s a common misconception that cats don’t or can’t recognize their own names. Many cat owners will call their cat’s name repeatedly, only to be ignored as their feline continues napping or gazing out the window. This has led to the popular saying, “cats know their names but don’t care.” But recent research has shown that cats can distinguish their names, they just often choose not to respond.

Cats Can Distinguish Their Names

Studies show that cats can distinguish their names from other random words. In 2019, researchers from Japan conducted experiments where cats were played audio recordings of their owners saying four words, including the cat’s own name 1. They observed the cats’ responses and found the cats showed more interest and responded faster to their own names compared to other words.

In another 2022 study from Kyoto University, it was found that cats living with other cats could distinguish their names from the names of the other cats in the household. The cats would respond to their own names but not the names of the other cats 2.

These studies demonstrate cats can identify their own names and distinguish them from other words and names.

Cats Associate Names with Rewards

Research has shown that cats are able to learn that their names are connected to rewards like food. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that domestic cats could distinguish their own names from other random nouns [1]. In the study, cats showed specific responses like moving their heads or ears or tails when their names were spoken, indicating they recognized their names.

The researchers suggest this is likely because cats learn to associate their names with rewards or punishments. For example, a cat will learn that when their owner calls their name, they are about to be fed. Or their name being spoken may be associated with positive interactions like petting or playtime. This associative learning helps cats recognize and respond to their own names.

Interestingly, the study also found cats respond more strongly to their names spoken by their owners rather than strangers. This indicates cats not only recognize their names, but associate them more strongly with their primary caretakers.

Names Don’t Hold Meaning for Cats

While cats can distinguish their names from other words, the name itself holds no real meaning for them. Cats associate their names with rewards or attention, but the name is just a sound to them. As experts from Cattipper explain, “Cats don’t understand the human meaning or sentimental significance behind their names – they just recognize it as something that merits a response when their human says it.”

The name becomes a conditioned stimulus that predicts good things are coming when their human calls it. But the name itself does not signify anything inherently meaningful or special to the cat.

As one cat owner on Quora shares about their cat Jasper, “He doesn’t comprehend that his name is Jasper and that the meaning behind it is ‘treasurer’ or ‘bringer of wealth.’ He just knows that when I call his name, he usually gets praise and pets.”

Cats learn to recognize their name because it is repeatedly associated with rewards and attention. But the specific name and the meaning humans attribute to it does not matter to cats. The name is simply a sound they associate with good things.

Cats Have Selective Hearing

Cats are very adept at picking and choosing when to respond to auditory stimuli. Multiple studies have confirmed that cats can recognize their names, but simply choose not to react when called by their owners. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Tokyo, cats were played audio recordings of their owners saying common words as well as their names. The cats showed minimal response to ordinary words, but their ears twitched and heads turned when they heard their names, indicating they could distinguish their names from other words (Time).

However, cat owners know that just because cats recognize their names doesn’t mean they will respond. Cats tend to practice what experts call “selective hearing,” meaning they have control over what stimuli they respond to and when. So even when they hear their names being called, they often choose not to react or respond. Their selective hearing allows them to focus on things they deem more important in the moment, like sleeping, playing with a toy, or gazing out the window (Cattitude Daily).

Cats Have Different Priorities

Cats have different priorities than humans when it comes to relationships and social interaction. For cats, marking and protecting their territory, finding food, and reproduction take precedence over forming close bonds with humans.

A cat’s territory provides security and familiarity. Outdoor cats will patrol the boundaries of their territory, marking it with scents from scent glands and urine to ward off intruders. Indoor cats exhibit similar behaviors by rubbing up against furniture and other objects in the home.

Hunting for food is another priority for cats, as predators. Domesticated cats retain those natural instincts to stalk, chase, and pounce. Even though they don’t have to hunt for survival with owners providing food, they still enjoy the simulation of hunting their toys or treats.

Lastly, reproduction and finding a mate comes first for unneutered cats. They will try to escape and roam in search of potential mates when they go into heat.

With territorial security, hunger drives, and reproductive urges so deeply ingrained in cats, human companionship ranks lower in their hierarchy of needs. Cats are independent creatures and while they may form bonds with their human families, their evolutionary priorities come before social relationships.

Independent Nature of Cats

One of the primary reasons cats don’t care much about their names is that they are independent by nature, unlike dogs which are pack animals. Cats are not reliant on others, even their owners, for their basic needs. According to a 2015 study, cats do not need their owners in the same way dogs do to feel safe and secure. Whereas dogs have evolved to develop strong social connections and bonding with their owners, the relationship between cats and their owners tends to be more opportunistic.

Cats descended from solitary wild cats, like the African wildcat, that lived on their own and hunted alone. This history as solitary hunters has shaped the independent nature of the domestic cat. As research shows, cats are more independent and autonomous compared to the pack mentality of dogs. Their independent spirit means they are less reliant on others, including their human owners. As solitary hunters, cats are accustomed to fending for themselves.

This innate independence is a large part of why cats don’t care much about their names. They simply don’t have the same need for social bonding and connection with their owners that pack animals like dogs have evolved to have. Their independent nature makes them less responsive in general to human direction and communication, including to their names being called.

How to Get a Cat’s Attention

Even though cats can recognize their names, they often choose not to respond when called. This is due to their independent nature. However, there are some tips to increase the chances of getting a cat’s attention when you call its name:

  • Get close to your cat before calling its name so it can easily hear you. Kneel down to your cat’s level.
  • Use a high-pitched, upbeat tone when saying your cat’s name. Say their name in a playful and engaging way.
  • Couple your cat’s name with an enticing noise like shaking a treat bag or opening a can of food. Food rewards help focus your cat’s attention.
  • Try making kissing noises or clicking your tongue to capture your cat’s interest before calling its name.
  • Reward your cat with pets or treats when it responds to its name to reinforce the behavior.
  • Avoid frequently calling your cat for negative reasons like giving medication. Only call it when you have something positive to offer.

With time and consistency, you can teach your cat to pay more attention when you call its name. But ultimately, patience with your cat’s independent personality goes a long way.

For more tips, check out this guide on how to get a cat’s attention.

When to Worry About Lack of Response

In most cases, a cat not responding to its name is perfectly normal behavior for this independent pet. However, there are some circumstances when lack of response can indicate potential health or hearing problems in a cat that warrant further veterinary investigation:

Signs your cat may have hearing or health issues include:

  • No response at all to loud noises or sounds like a can opener that usually provoke a reaction
  • Bumping into furniture or seeming lost and confused in familiar surroundings
  • Drastic change in interactions or sudden lack of response when previously the cat responded well to its name
  • Yowling or meowing much more loudly as if unable to hear itself
  • Tilting head frequently as if trying harder to hear
  • Discharge or odor coming from ears
  • Loss of balance or trouble jumping up to favorite spots

Schedule a veterinary exam if any of these signs of potential hearing loss or health issues emerge in an older cat. Catching problems early can help manage age-related decline in senses and mobility for a cat.

For a kitten or younger cat not responding to its name, seek the advice of a vet to rule out medical factors. Kittens normally respond consistently to their names by 4-6 months of age.


In summary, while cats are perfectly capable of learning their names and distinguishing them from other words, they often choose not to respond when called due to their independent nature. Cats associate their names with rewards like food or playtime and not necessarily with an instruction to come when called. Their selective hearing and different priorities mean they do not place the same importance on reacting to their names as dogs tend to. Rather than being upset by a cat’s aloofness, it’s best to use other ways to get their attention like toys, treats, and positive interactions. Lack of response to a name is only concerning if accompanied by other behavioral changes. Understanding the unique motivations and instincts of cats allows us to better relate to these fascinating and self-determined pets.

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