Does Your Cat Come When Called? The Surprising Truth About Cats and Their Names

Felines Are Feeling You Calling Their Name

When you call your cat’s name, do they come running or at least look up in acknowledgment? For most cat owners, the answer is yes, our furry friends do seem to recognize their own name. It’s a special bond between owner and cat when they respond positively to hearing their name. But why is that exactly? Let’s dive into the reasons behind cats recognizing and reacting to their names.

Cats Recognize Their Names

Studies show that cats can distinguish their own names from other random words. In a 2019 study published in Scientific Reports, researchers found that cats reacted more strongly when their owners called their name versus other words (Scientific American). The cats’ ears and heads moved more in response to hearing their names. Another 2019 study in Animal Cognition had similar findings, with cats showing more response to their own names compared to other nouns. While cats may not always come when called, the evidence indicates they can identify their names amid other vocabulary.

Name Association With Rewards

Cats can associate their name with positive rewards such as food or playtime. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found cats were more attentive and showed more anticipatory behavior when their name was called compared to when another cat’s name was used. This suggests cats have learned to associate their name with potential rewards from their owner.

Cats that respond positively when their name is called likely associate it with receiving treats, getting petted and played with, or other rewards from their owner. The cat’s name becomes a “salient stimulus” that may predict good things are about to happen, similar to how a dog perks up when it hears the word “walk.” With consistent name-reward pairing, cats learn that responding to their name leads to enjoyable consequences.

Cats Respond Differently

Cats show varying responses when their owners call their name, even though research shows cats recognize their own names (Scientific American). Some cats come eagerly when called, while others seem to ignore their owners completely.

According to certified cat behavior consultant Mikel Delgado, cats respond differently because of their independent nature. Unlike dogs who aim to please, cats make their own choices. Delgado explains that cats who come when called likely associate their name with rewards, such as petting, treats or playtime. On the other hand, cats who ignore their name may not relate it with anything positive.

While some cats snub their owners’ calls, it doesn’t mean they don’t recognize their name. As per the 2019 study, even cats who don’t respond still demonstrate recognition through ear, head and eye movements. Their varying responses simply reflect different personalities and motivations. With rewards and positive associations, owners can encourage all cats to come closer when called.

Bond With Their Owners

A cat’s name can help deepen the bond with their owner. Studies show that cats do form attachments to their owners in a similar way to dogs or human infants. According to research from PetPlace, cats see their owners as a secure base and derive comfort from their presence. By consistently using a cat’s name in a positive way, owners can strengthen their kitty’s trust and feelings of security.

Cats also recognize their names as distinct sounds that belong to them personally. When an owner calls their name, the cat associates that sound with rewards, attention, and caring interactions. This forms a connection between the name, the owner’s voice, and positive experiences. With time and repetition, just hearing their name stimulates feelings of comfort and belonging in the cat.

In multi-cat households, names help cats distinguish which human is calling them or directing attention specifically to them. So a cat’s name allows for unique bonding and development of an exclusive relationship between the cat and their chosen person.

Use Their Name Positively

When calling a cat by name, it’s important to use positive reinforcement and avoid only saying their name for discipline or punishment. According to one study cited in this article, a cat’s name can become associated with rewards and attention. If their name is frequently used in a negative tone, the cat may learn to avoid coming when called. Instead, call the cat by name and provide pets, treats or playtime. This creates a positive association between the cat’s name and pleasurable activities. Additionally, use their name during regular interactions and conversations, not just when giving commands. This way, hearing their name does not always precede an undesirable action like nail trimming or bath time.

Make Their Name Distinct

Choosing a unique or distinctive name for your cat can help ensure they recognize it more easily. Common cat names like “Kitty” or “Fluffy” can sound similar to other words used around the house. Opting for a more unusual name gives your cat’s moniker a specific association. For example, names from mythology, foreign languages, or inspired by favorite books/movies can stand out. Your cat’s name should sound different from commands and other vocabulary you use regularly at home. This prevents confusion and allows your cat to recognize their name apart from other spoken words. A unique name that’s unlike anything else you say makes it simpler for your cat to learn that the special word refers to them.

Use Other Cues Too

Cats can learn to respond to cues other than just their name, like sounds, tones of voice, or hand gestures. According to How to Train a Cat: Expert Tips and Techniques, you can teach a cat to come when called by using a consistent cue or sound, followed by a reward when they respond. The same source says you can train a cat to respond to hand gestures like pointing combined with a verbal cue. Using a variety of cues can help get your cat’s attention or direct their behavior.

Cats may be more likely to respond when additional cues beyond their name are used. This could be using a welcoming, upbeat tone of voice when calling their name or making kissing sounds. Combining their name with gestures like patting your lap or pointing at their food bowl can help as well. Varying the cues used can help keep your cat engaged compared to relying solely on calling their name repeatedly.

Consider Their Personality

Just like people, cats all have unique personalities that inform how they respond. An energetic cat who craves attention may come running as soon as they hear their name. Meanwhile, a shy cat who prefers solitary time may completely ignore their name being called. Understanding a cat’s personality can provide insight into why they respond the way they do.

Energetic and outgoing cats often love responding to their name as they associate it with rewards and attention from their owner. Hearing their name stimulates them as it represents an opportunity to engage in play or receive affection. These highly social cats thrive when they get to interact using their name as a cue.

On the other hand, shy and timid cats may actually find hearing their name stressful or overstimulating. They tend to prefer minimal interaction and alone time. For these cats, hearing their name called may feel invasive or demanding if they are not in the mood for social time. Their lack of response is often simply a reflection of their personality and preferences.

So an outgoing cat running over when called and a shy cat ignoring their name are both natural responses fitting their respective personalities. Getting to know a cat’s unique quirks and inclinations helps explain why some readily reply to their name while others do not.


In summary, cats are indeed capable of recognizing their own names. While some cats may be more responsive than others, most cats will learn to identify their name when it is repeatedly associated with rewards, attention, and care from their owner. Forming this connection between a cat’s name and positive reinforcement helps strengthen the bond between cat and owner. Additionally, choosing a distinct name, using it consistently, and pairing it with other cues can make a name more meaningful for cats. However, it’s important to consider each cat’s unique personality and adjust your expectations accordingly when it comes to name recognition. While a cat’s name plays an important role in their relationship with humans, it is just one component in cultivating a close companionship.

In conclusion, a cat’s name serves as a key identifier and a way for owners to get their cat’s attention. With time and positive associations, most cats will recognize and respond to their name, reflecting the strong relationship between cat and human.

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