Even if they ignore you, your feline friends can recognize your voice and your name when you call them. Hearing it, they react with a tic in the ear or turn their heads, even if the voice belongs to a stranger and not its owner. Cats have 32 ear muscles and can rotate them 180 degrees, but science has shown they use them to ignore you.
Worldwide, there are more than 600 million cats that share a home with humans, they have been domesticated for about 9,500 years. In some countries, the number of these pets is equal to or even greater than that of dogs (such as Japan, where there are almost 9 million dogs and 9.5 million cats).
However, only in the last decade scientists have begun to investigate the ability of cats to communicate with humans. Hungarian ethologist Adam Miklosi demonstrated that cats are able to follow the human gesture of pointing food, for example, similarly to dogs.
In addition, Moriah Galvan and Jennifer Vonk of Oakland University proved that cats are modestly sensitive to the emotions of its owner, and other studies have indicated that their behaviour is influenced by the mood of humans.
These and other research illustrate that domestic cats have the ability to recognize human gestural, facial, and vocal cues, according to a study by Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka from Musashino University published in the journal Scientific Reports, Nature.
With all that background, it’s not surprising that cats – or any pets – are attentive to the sound of their names because rewards, such as food or play, or punishments – such as a trip to the vet – often follow. Nonetheless, studies show that they manage to recognize the sound of their names, but there is insufficient evidence to claim that cats really understand the concept of a name.
It also doesn’t mean your cat is coming when you call. While some cats responded to their names by turning their heads or moving their ears, less than 10% get up to get closer to the sound, according to research by Saito and Shinozuka.
“Cats are just as good as dogs at learning — they’re just not as keen to show their owners what they’ve learnt,“ John Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study, told Nature.