Do cats recognize their owners?
Questions About Cats

Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?

Cats have an unfair reputation among some as being cold. They may not react when you call their name, but cats are still loyal, loving pets. Despite their independent nature, they’re perfectly capable of forging a bond with a human.

Will a cat recognize its owner? They do, but not necessarily by sight. Cats tend to differentiate humans by scent and the unique timber of our voices. This is due to their hunting instincts. Over generations, cats have learned to trust their nose and hearing over their eyes.

It’s not just their owners that cats recognize, either. They know which visitors to your home they consider friends, and will act accordingly. This guide investigates the relationship between felines and humans, and how to forge a happy bond.

Do Cats Recognize Their Owners by Sight?

In some respects, their eyesight is better than that of a human. They can certainly see better at night, and their peripheral vision field is wider than ours. On the other hand, cats see fewer shades of color than humans.

This limitation in vision means that cats cannot differentiate between humans by sight alone. A cat will recognize that a human is approaching them, no doubt. According to the Journal of Vision, however, they may not know which human. As far as cats are concerned, we all look the same.

In many respects, cats view humans with the simplistic outlook that a toddler may view cats. Cats observing a diverse group of humans won’t acknowledge race, gender or hair color by sight. By the same token, a young child in a shelter sees cats. They won’t necessarily be pointing out the difference between a Shorthair, a Persian and Ragdoll.

According to the study, cats recognized visual-only cues of their human owners just half the time. Conversely, they could pinpoint another particular feline on over 90% of occasions. Despite this, cats are actually very adept at reading human facial expressions.

A study published in Animal Cognition found that cats understand the difference between smiling and frowning. They will know whether their owner is happy or upset. More often than not, the cat will react accordingly.

Do Cats Recognize Their Owners’ Voices?

Felines cannot spot their owner in a crowd, but they can pick out their voice. When a cat hears their owner’s voice, they automatically become more alert.

Unfortunately, as we all know, this does not mean that they care. This is why cats do not always come when called. They turn their head upon hearing their owner’s voice, acknowledging it. Unless you use a word that the cat associates with reward, however, they’re unlikely to move.

This feline skill may come in handy if your cat is lost, though. If you call for a frightened cat, they’re more likely to respond to a familiar voice. It also means that your cat will still recognize you after a prolonged absence. Faces change, but voices do not.

Cats even recognize other sounds you produce, such as the weight and volume of your footsteps. You may notice that a housecat always waits at the door to greet certain family members. That will be because they heard, and recognized, their favorite human’s gait from outside.

do cats recognize their owners’ voices?

Can Cats Recognize Human Language?

Cats will learn certain words, and understand what they mean – usually if there is a positive connotation. “Dinnertime!” is much more likely to elicit a positive response than, “bath time!” for example.

Overall though, cats understand the sound more than the words themselves. It’s all about the subtle connotations. Just like a cat can read our faces, they can read our words. Praising a cat will sound very different to scolding them.

Cats respond far better of higher-pitched voices, with the words delivered in a calm tone. Addressing a cat in a baritone bellow will likely result in being ignored. They will still recognize the voice as that of their owner. They will choose to ignore it.

Do Cats Recognize Your Scent?

Perhaps the most pivotal sense for cats is that of smell. A human’s smell is like a fingerprint to cats. We all have a slightly different scent, and that’s what they associate with us. When that smell hits their nose, it will trigger recognition in the cat.

If your cat considers your smell to be worth remembering, they’ll do just that. Scent can have a real emotional hook for felines. If you been out all day, your scent will announce to your cat that you’re home. This will put the cat into an agitated state, as they’ll be happy to be reunited.

It’s also impossible to mask a scent from a cat. Felines have very accomplished and powerful noses. They pick up on the subtlest hints of scent on our skin that we don’t notice. Changing your perfume or deodorant will not confuse anymore than a haircut makes a human unrecognizable.

Do Cats Remember Owners After Being Separated?

The short-term memory of a cat lasts for around 16 hours. This is how long felines retain basic information or hold grudges. For the things that matter, however, cats have excellent memories. They also have superior long-term memories than short-term.

By things that matter, we mean essential survival information. Kittens learn how to hunt from their mothers, and remember that for life. When cats get a little older and start to wander and patrol, they learn their surroundings. Return a cat somewhere they lived a decade ago, and they’ll recall where they found food. Cats that have a frightening experience with dogs when young will likely avoid dogs for life.

Like humans, it’s the earliest memories absorbed during early life that are most likely to stick. Cats learning something between 2 and 7 years are likely to retain this knowledge for life. Likewise, a kitten born into a family home will likely never forget the house’s other occupants. It is possible for older cats to remember humans though, even if they’re into double figures. If an emotional bond is forged, the owner will remain important to the cat for life.

If you played a pivotal role in a cat’s development, they will remember you. Maybe not by sight, but they will certainly remember your scent and voice. How they react to this, naturally, depends on the nature of your bond before being separated! Cats retain their memories of affection. However, they also recall anything – or anybody – that hurt or frightened them.

How Do I Know That a Cat Recognizes or Remembers Me?

If a cat shows you affection, it’s usually a sign that they recognize you. Felines are so independent that they are often indifferent to strangers. Exceptions may be if you’re holding something that smells tasty, or you smell of another cat.

However, any of the following behaviors that a cat remembers you:

  • They raise their tail, and curl it at the end. This is a cat’s way of demonstrating excitement at your presence. They are saying hello, and expressing that they’re glad to see you again.
  • They rub themselves against your shins. This is the cat replacing any scents on your clothing with their own. They are essentially reclaiming you as their property.
  • They lick you. This is a sign of ownership from a cat, marking you as part of their family. They tend not to do this with just anybody. The cat must have a fond memory of you.
  • They roll over and show you their belly. This is the ultimate sign of trust from a cat. They are saying, “here is the most vulnerable part of my anatomy, I know you won’t hurt me.”
  • They curl up with you and fall asleep. Again, a cat will not let their guard down unless they feel safe around you. Very few cats feel that secure with a stranger.
  • They stare. A cat’s gaze can feel like it penetrates your very soul. You may feel quietly judged, but cats only make eye contact with trusted humans. If they slowly blink, this is a ‘cat kiss.’ This is rare behavior reserved only for those deemed worthy or emotional attachment.

If your former cat was exceptionally trusting and playful, they might be the same with anybody. This is the exception rather than the rule, however. If a cat demonstrates love behavior, it suggests they remember you as being important to them.

My Older Cat Doesn’t Appear to Recognize Me Anymore

Sadly, as cats grow older, they may become prone to feline dementia. This condition is officially known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

If your senior cat seems not to recognize you any longer, look out for other symptoms of CDS.

These include:

  • Staring at walls for prolonged periods.
  • Struggling to make it to the litter tray – or appearing to willingly eliminate.
  • Crying and becoming more vocal, especially after dark.
  • Showing little interest in wandering of patrolling.
  • Forgetting to eat or drink.

If you have any reason to suspect that your cat is living with CDS, consult a vet. They will be able to run tests, and confirm if this is the case. Even if your cat is sick, if caught early enough the impact can be slowed down. It’s just important that you act quickly.

do cats recognize your scent?

Do Cats Bond With Their Owners?

The independent nature of cats sometimes works against them, earning unfavorable comparisons to other pets. Some claim that cats are too aloof and moody to love a human owner.

This is untrue. Cats can love their owners – they don’t need them like other domesticated animals. In your cat’s mind, you are not their primary caregiver. They won’t necessarily approach you for help if they are sick, scared or in distress. They treat you the same as any other cat.

This is all down to cat’s role in history. Humans willfully and willingly domesticated other common pets, such as dogs. Cats began interacting with us on their terms, though. This means that they retain the instincts required to survive, and even thrive, in the wild.

Cats like comfort, there is no doubt about that. This means that the shelter and soft blankets provided by humans are welcome. They also prefer hunting for sport, as opposed to sustenance. Cats also enjoy solitude and peace and quiet. These are two things that may be in short supply in a busy family home.

If your cat sticks around, it’s because they feel bonded to your family. They have enough primitive instincts to survive outside the home. They must enjoy your company, and thus tolerate the less ideal elements of living with you. This may all sound like damnation by faint praise. All the same, a cat returning to your home after patrolling should be considered a compliment.

Plenty of time and research has been spent on learning whether cats can recognize their owners. The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes. A combination of sight, sound and scent mark us as distinct to our feline family members. This should help dispel the popular fallacy that cats will tolerate anybody willing to feed them.

Of course, this recognition doesn’t only apply to owners. You could be a kindly neighbor that offers the occasional treat. Maybe you’re a friend or family member that visits occasionally. You may even have been somebody that popped by once, several years ago, and made an impression. The result is the same. The cat recognizes and accepts you, based on sight, sound, and scent.