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What Did You Say? Do Our Cats Understand Us?

do cats understandDo our cats understand us? They are hard to read sometimes, and often they feel the same about us! But when we talk to our cats, what do they hear?

We often address out feline friends the same way we talk to babies or young children. Sometimes we treat them as adults. But do we understand our cats and their thought processes when we are having a conversation? Do our cats understand us?

Cats are notoriously indifferent to us humans. We all know times when our animals ignore us when we call. But research indicates that our domestic cats understand. They do recognize their names. But although cats understand it’s likely they will still shrug and walk away when we call them.

Academic scientist Atsuko Saito has been studying cat communication for many years now. She is now a behavioural scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University. But previously she identified that cats could recognise their owner’s voice.

In a new study she has researched how 78 separate cats respond when people called their names.

Saito and her team first asked owners to repeat four words that were similar sounding to the names of their cats. This was done until the animals became used to hearing those words and no longer responded.

After this the researchers studied if individual cats appeared to distinguish their names when called by the owners.

The cats had a more pronounced response to their own names—moving their ears, tails or heads or meowing—than to other similar words or other cats’ names.

People to whom the cats were unfamiliar also spoke their names. Although the cat reactions were less obvious they still seemed to be aware their names were being called.

After her study, Saito now believes it may be possible for cats to learn to recognise other words. Her peers believe that cats are as good as dogs at learning so it may be possible to train them to follow specific commands. But, they may continue to be unenthusiastic show us what they’ve learned!

In her earlier study, when Saito was at the University of Tokyo, she found that cats can really understand our voices and do indeed pay attention when we speak to them.

To help our cats understand what is important is how we speak. The research shows that cats are very sensitive and can either feel safe or threatened depending on the tone and the loudness of our voices. Cats are much more likely to respond and socialise with us when we speak in a soft, calm voice.

The study also indicated that if we have to use a strong tone of voice to show displeasure, we should never use our cat’s name and the word “no” in the same sentence. Cats find this very confusing.

Communicating with our cats isn’t only about the words we use; it’s also about how we act and the way in which our cats interpret our actions.


When we introduce ourselves to our cats, cats are wont to see an open hand as a sign that we may be about to pounce and attack them. It is a closed fist with a forefinger slightly extended that they take as a sign we are being friendly.

Cats, of course, have very different personalities. These can range from timid to ebullient, outgoing and friendly. To introduce ourselves we should begin by getting down to their level. Then we should slowly extend our cupped hand with an extended finger and allow the cat to come closer and sniff our finger.

What may happen is that the cat then rubs its neck along our finger to indicate it’s okay to scratch on the shoulders or behind the ear. It’s at this point that it is good to talk softly so the cat can relate to the tone of our voices.


The feline equivalent to a continental air kiss is for us to match our cat’s gaze and open and close our eyes in blinking movements. Cats recognise this as an affectionate signal and are likely to return the romantic message by blinking back.


Cats invariably find unexpected and uninvited petting extremely irritating. They feel it is an unnecessary intrusion if, while they’re grooming or sleeping, you suddenly pet them.

The way they tell you they are annoyed is to ignore you and go back to what they were doing befire you rudely interrupted. Cats are big believers in mutual respect.

To find out more about how you can speak to your cats in their language How To Speak Cat is an amusing collaboration between author Aline Alexander Newman and illustrator Gary Weitzman.

At Cats, Dogs & Peace of Mind all our team members are well versed in understanding the cats in our care. To find out how we can look after your beloved pet while you’re away or simply too busy then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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