Yes, Your Cat Really Is Ignoring You

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If you've ever suspected that your feline friend isn't listening to you, you're mostly right — but only to a point. The studies show the whole truth is a bit more painful.

Japanese researchers wanted to know if cats could recognize their names, so they tested the felines with various human calls, including the cats' own names, general nouns, and names of other cats that lived in the same household.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that pet cats can distinguish their names from general nouns and the names of other cats in the house — but they're unlikely to do anything in response. The research was performed primarily in the lab of professor Toshikazu Hasegawa from the University of Tokyo with Atsuko Saito, Ph.D., lead author of the research paper, who is an associate professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, according to EurekaAlert. They also tested this same theory at a cat cafe.

Their point in all this wasn't to make cat owners feel bad but to see if cats understand human voices — and they do. Apes, dolphins, parrots and dogs have proven that they too understand some words spoken by humans, but as any cat owner knows, cats just do things their own way.

"In comparison to those other species, cats are not so social. Cats interact with us when they want," Saito said.

I can't hear you

Ginger cat yawning with paws in the air
You talkin' to me?. DavidTB/Shutterstock

Earlier research by members of the same research team found that pet cats recognize their owner's voices, but the outcome is the same: the felines usually choose to ignore the calls.

Scientists observed 20 domesticated cats in their homes for eight months to monitor how the animals recognized and responded to different voices — both strangers' voices and the cats' owners — calling out the cats' names.

The study published in Animal Cognition found that 50 percent to 70 percent of the cats turned their heads at the sound and 30 percent moved their ears, typical reactions to hearing any sound.

Just 10 percent of the felines responded to being called by meowing or moving their tails.

In other words, your cat hears you when you call — he just doesn't care enough to acknowledge it.

Response rates were similar regardless of whether the cats were called by strangers or their owner.

However, the felines did have a "more intense" response to their owner's voice, indicating that the animals do have a special relationship with the people they know.

On the bright side, it's an evolutionary thing

European wildcat
The European wildcat (Felis silvestris) and other cats had a common ancestor about 10–15 million years ago. Aconcagua [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

The study suggests that cats' unresponsive behavior could be rooted in the animal’s evolution.

Modern housecats' common ancestor was Felis silvestris, a wildcat species that came into contact with humans 9,000 years ago. As people began farming the land, the cats moved in to prey on rodents attracted to crops.

As the study's authors write, cats essentially "domesticated themselves."

"Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humans' orders. Rather, they seem to take the initiative in human-cat interaction," the paper reads.

While dogs were bred over thousands of years to respond to commands, the authors say cats never needed to learn to obey human orders.

The study further notes that although "dogs are perceived by their owners as being more affectionate than cats, dog owners and cat owners do not differ significantly in their reported attachment level to their pets."

The authors humorously conclude their paper by noting that they’re not sure why cat lovers adore their indifferent felines so much.

"The behavioral aspect of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them are still undetermined," they write.