Cats Are Only Interested in You If You’re Talking to Them Directly

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Cat owners have long held the suspicion that their feline companions are aware of and sensitive to them. They now have empirical evidence.

According to a study that was published in the journal Animal Cognition, cats alter their behavior when they hear their owner speak to them directly as opposed to when their owner is speaking to other individuals.

This suggests that cats understand and respond to the sound of their owners’ voices but that they are only interested in them when they are being spoken to directly. This difference is only noticeable when the cats are spoken to by their owners and not when they are approached by strangers.

Anita Kelsey, a feline behaviorist and the author of Let’s Talk About Cats, told Newsweek that it is “fair to say cats understand human speech, not just by what outcome that speech presents [but also] the familiarity of particular tones and what the outcome of those are too.”

Instead of truly knowing the words and their meaning in the human sense, in my opinion, [they are] understanding through association of what happens from that term.

In the most recent study, 16 cats listened to recordings of their owners and strangers chatting to them and to other humans as well as to their owners and strangers. The scientists then kept an eye on behavioral changes like tail movement, ear movement, and pupil dilation.

In the initial experiment, the cats’ names were first called by a stranger, then by their owner. In the second, the owner’s voice was played for the cats, first speaking to them and then to a different person. In both instances, the cats’ conduct became more outspoken when their owner spoke directly to them. They didn’t notice this difference while they were speaking to a stranger.

Despite the study’s limited sample size, the results support the idea that cats and their owners can develop close relationships.

cat and owner playing
A cat is seen climbing on its owner in a file photo. Contrary to popular belief, cats build close relationships with their owners.

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