Pet Cats Map Their Owners' Location Using Sound Cues

They are surprised when their humans appear to 'teleport.'

Portrait Of Cat Sitting On Sofa At Home
Rob Alexander / EyeEm / Getty Images

Dogs almost always know where their owners are. There’s a good chance most pup owners can’t go to the bathroom or even get the mail without their dog wondering where they went.

Cats, though, are a whole different story. Because they often appear indifferent about so many things, they don’t always seem to care—or be aware—where their humans are.

But a new study finds that pet cats seem to track their owners’ location, specifically by listening. And they are particularly surprised when their person’s voice appears to come from a different place than they think they are.

Study author Saho Takagi of Kyoto University in Japan was curious, watching her pet cats.

“I was observing the cats I keep at home, and I was wondering if they guessed the location of their owners from the direction of the voices,” Takagi tells Treehugger.

Based on earlier studies of monkeys in the wild, Takagi and her colleagues set up a study watching cats in their homes and at a cat cafe. They played recordings of the owners saying their cats’ names.

Speakers were placed far apart from each other and then the recordings were played for the cats when they were alone in the room. They were played first in one speaker, then another, making it appear that the owners had “teleported” to a new location.

A group of eight people watched video clips of the cats’ reactions and evaluated the felines’ level of surprise based on actions such as ear and head movements, and looking around.

The cats in the study appeared surprised when their owners seemed to teleport and weren’t where they expected to be, the researchers concluded.

“There was a quick turn of the head in the direction of the voice and a look around,” Takagi says.

The findings suggest that the cats use sound to mentally map the location of their owners, a type of socio-spatial cognition. In the past, researchers have suggested that this socio-spatial cognition is helpful for some animals. It helps them know the locations of other living things including predators, prey, and members of their group, which can be important especially when visibility isn’t good.

The results of the study were published in the journal PLOS One.

More Profound Mind

Researchers say this is the first time that this socio-spatial cognitive ability has been identified in cats.

“From this study, it was found that cats have the ability to picture the invisible in their minds,” Takagi says. “This is an ability that is the basis of creativity and imagination. Cats are thought to have a more profound mind than is thought.”

Or, basically, cats might act like they don’t care, but they secretly may be paying a lot of attention.

Takagi sums up the study’s findings as, “It is the fact that a cat that looks so nonchalant has actually captured its invisible owner in its heart.”

View Article Sources