do cats understand their names?
Questions About Cats

How Do Cats Learn Their Names?

Some people believe that cats never bother to learn their own names. This view is based on the fact that cats rarely seem to respond. This is untrue. Cats do recognize their names and respond in subtle ways. Oftentimes, a cat will prick up its ears at the sound of its name.

Choose a short name that contains hard vowels and consonants. These are easier for a cat’s brain to differentiate from general human conversation. Use your cat’s name while offering food, play, or catnip. This will teach your cat that its name is associated with pleasure. Eventually, the use of a cat’s name will always garner feline attention.

It is believed that a typical domesticated cat understands around 30 human words. The cat’s name will be among these, alongside essential commands. Do not overuse your cat’s name, and never shout it in anger. Eventually, your cat will start to respond to its name.

Does My Cat Know its Name?

You may assume that your cat does not know its own name. After all, it’s a common complaint that cats do not respond to calling. Scientific Reports confirm that cats differentiate their names from other words, though.

The study played recordings of an owner’s voice engaged in general conversation. Animal Cognition explains that cats differentiate owners from other humans by voice. The cats engaged in this study soon tuned out after initial recognition as they were used to hearing their owners’ voices.

A change occurred with the owner used the cat’s name in the recording. At this point, the cat’s ears pricked up and it showed more attention. This suggests that, amidst indecipherable conversational sounds, the cat understands use of its own name.

How Do Cats Recognize Their Names?

Cats recognize their names through familiarity. Cats will automatically recognize their owner’s voices. The cat will hear its own name a lot, especially while interfacing directly with an owner.

Perhaps more importantly, cats associate the sound of their name with pleasure. The use of a cat’s name may precede a treat, dinner, or petting. This quickly teaches the cat that its name is worth responding to.

Try to use a cat’s name sparingly. You need your cat to understand that names are important. If you keep using it, the sound will blend into the background with other human words.

Consider an alternative term or nickname when not addressing your cat directly. This will avoid attracting unwanted or undesired attention. Just avoid using nicknames when talking to your cat. Cats have limited understanding of human words. Keep things simple.

do cats understand words?

Choosing a Cat Name

Note that cats recognize the sound of their name, rather than the word itself. The feline brain recognizes and breaks down particular syllables. Some of these are easier for a cat to differentiate than others.

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America confirms that cats can differentiate between vowels. Hard vowels sound (A, E, and I) are easier for a cat to understand. O and U are referred to as soft vowels and can be buried among other sounds.

The same applies to consonants. Cats find it easier to recognize hard consonants and respond accordingly. Examples of hard constants are B, D, K and T. This is why a call of, “here, kitty kitty” can be effective in gaining feline attention.

Your cat’s name should not sound similar to other words or commands. For example, if you have a child named Andy, do not call your cat Sandy. Avoid names that sound like, “dinner”, “down” and, “sit”, too.

Keep your cat’s name short. A feline’s name should never be longer than two syllables, and always one word. Any longer than this and the cat will lose interest. The name will blend in with general, indecipherable human conversation.

How to Teach a Cat its Name

Once you have chosen an appropriate name, get to work teaching it to your cat. This is done through motivation. Verbally praising a cat is rarely enough. You’ll need to use tangible rewards.

If your cat is food-focused, use treats. Tuna is also a powerful tool. Few cats can resist the scent of taste of this tinned fish. Provide this treat while offering the food to your cat.

If you use food to train your cat, remove this from a daily calorie allowance. Cats will learn that responding to their name leads to rewards. If you give your cat food every time, it will quickly gain weight. Once your cat learns its name, you can reduce the rewards.

Some cats also find catnip irresistible. Use this reward sparingly too, though. Excessive catnip exposure can lead to immunity to its effects. This will result in you losing a potent training tool.

Always use a gentle and convincing voice when calling a cat’s name. Cats pick up the human tone. In addition, the name must retain positive connotations. Cats will approach humans if they consider it safe to do so.

How Long Does it Take for a Cat to Learn its Name?

This depends on the cat. Learn what stimulates your cat and captures its imagination. We have to remember how independent cats are. Felines only retain and learn information they consider to be essential.

Some cats learn their names within days, but it could take up to six months. Kittens are more open to absorbing new information than senior cats. The key learning window for a kitten is the first 12 weeks of its life. Be aware though, most kittens take their cues from their mother at this age. Human language may be ignored.

If your cat does not respond to its name after six months, consider changing it. Your cat may have an issue with its name or dislike the sound.

Can You Change a Cat’s Name?

There are many reasons why you may wish to change a cat’s name. Perhaps you adopted a cat with a name similar to an existing pet or family member. Alternatively, you may have just found that the initial name did not garner a response.

Your cat may also have outgrown its name. The fur of black cats changes with age, for example. “Shadow” may no longer be the ideal name for a cat with rusty, red fur. A ‘cute’ name for a kitten may seem inappropriate for a senior cat.

Technically, you can change a cat’s name at any point in its life. This is the one advantage of a feline’s natural disinclination for obedience. You’ll just need to recommence the training outlined above. The cat will, as always, learn to recognize the sound.

If you want your cat to respond, don’t change its name too often. Cats love routine. Constant changes to name will grow confusing. It can already be tough to retain a cat’s interest. There is nothing to stop you constantly changing a cat’s name, but consistency is advisable.

Do not change your cat’s name just because it does not come running when you use it. The fact is, cats rarely respond in this way. The behavior is not caused by a lack of understanding. The cat just does not wish to approach you at this time.

Why Doesn’t My Cat Respond to its Name?

There is every chance that your cat is responding to its name. It is just doing so subtly. A cat will not come running at the sound of its name.

If your cat’s ears twitch or prick up, it is responding to its name. The cat will then continue with what it was doing. It knows that you want its attention. You just haven’t made it worth the cat’s while. It will come to find you when it is ready.

Usually, this denotes a secure attachment between feline and owner. There could be other explanations, though. If your cat never responds to its name, or behaves strangely, consider these potential reasons.


Your cat may be mistaking its name for another command. This is likeliest if the cat behaves seemingly erratically when you call its name.

For example, if your cat is named, “Ted”, it may think you are saying, “bed.” The cat may then approach its bed, or a preferred napping spot. If the cat’s name sounds similar to another pet or family member, it may think you’re addressing somebody else.

In these instances, it is advisable to change the cat’s name to something unique. You’ll need to re-commence the training. If the cat still fails to respond, there will be another reason.

how cats know their names

Hard of Hearing

If a senior cat suddenly stops responding to its name, it may be losing its hearing. Just like humans, feline senses deteriorate with age.

If your cat responds to other sounds, this is unlikely to be the case. Test your cat’s hearing, though. Stamp your feet, or gently clap your hands behind tour cat. If these activities garner no reaction, speak to a vet.

Cats can still live full and happy lives without their hearing. You’ll just need to make some lifestyle adjustments for your cat’s comfort and safety.


It is possible that your cat is just displaying dominance. It heard you calling but does not wish to show it. The cat is announcing that it is in charge. If you want your cat’s attention, you have to earn it.

Ensure that this dominance does not translate into bad behavior, such as aggression. Stubbornness is one thing. Outright dominance and belligerence are more serious concerns. You’ll need to ensure that your cat learns its place in the pecking order.


If your cat grows panicked by the sound of its name, change its moniker immediately. Regular use of a word that triggers anxiety is dangerous for a cat. There are many reasons why a cat’s name can cause stress.

Adopted cats may have been mistreated in the past. This will lead to a negative association with the name. Alternatively, you may have shouted at the cat while using its name. This will be remembered. It could be as simple as the cat not liking the sound of its own name.

This is why it is so important to ensure that a cat’s name remains a source of pleasure. It doesn’t take much to stress out a feline. You do not want its name to become an everyday concern.

The key to helping a cat recognize its name is regular use, in a positive context. Cats will never respond to their name the same way as humans or other animals. Learn the subtle cues that your cat understands you, though. This will aid your bond and communication.