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Do Cats Know Their Names? Our Vet Answers

Written by: Dr. Luqman Javed DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on May 24, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

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Do Cats Know Their Names? Our Vet Answers

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Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

WRITTEN BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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So, you’re curious if your cat really knows their name. Well, do they? It’s a good question because we put so much thought into naming our cats.

Here’s the good news: yes, cats know their names, but whether or not they acknowledge their name when called is another story. In fact, cats can even remember the names of their cat friends! Here’s how it works.

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Do Cats Know Their Names?

Cats are able to learn a sound that you associate with their name 1, and know when they’re being called. However, whether or not they respond is completely up to them. In other words, they may ignore you when you call them. Conversely, they may instantly perk up when called as well, and happily meow and come to you as well. 

Cats are also able to distinguish the sound of their owner’s voice from that of someone else. In other words, your cat may come when you call them, but may choose not to do so when a stranger calls them. 

Cats are also able to remember the names of their cat friends whom they interact with on a regular basis 2. This means that if you have more than one cat in your house, each cat may know which cat is being called when their name is spoken. 

As always, being cats, they may not always follow up with an intended response to the name being called, though. At other times though, they may immediately come to you, especially if they feel that a prospect of their favorite treat might be on the horizon!

Curious cat smell snack on its master's hand
Image Credit: Anciens Huang, Shutterstock

Can a Cat Remember a Person?

A cat’s working memory or short term memory isn’t that incredible, and experiments involving this part of their cognition places them below canines 3. However, remembering a person doesn’t involve short term memory. Instead, it involves long term memory. In fact, short term memory only lasts for a period of about 30 seconds or so (even in humans)!  

Cats can indeed remember a person, however, the duration of how long they can remember someone isn’t well investigated in scientific studies. However, logically speaking, a cat would need to have relatively good long term memory to survive in the wild. A cat would need to know where the best hunting spots, hiding spots, water sources, and dens are in their territory.

Naturally, a cat would use all their senses to navigate about on a daily basis, but cats are able to learn from experience and practice. Therefore, it’s fair to assume that they do have a long term memory that would let them remember a person. Stories of cats being reunited with their owners after years of separation and their response to the reunion seems to suggest that their capacity for remembering a person might possibly extend to a period of a few years. 

Can Cats Forget Names and Faces?

Unfortunately, cats can develop the same cognitive disorders as humans, like dementia. This is known as feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). More than 55% of cats between the ages of 11 and 15 may experience some form of cognitive impairment, including memory loss. Naturally this may involve a cat forgetting their name.

The signs of FCD are quite long, but the typical signs include eliminating outside the litter box, spatial disorientation, disinterest in normal social behavior, wandering, lack of grooming, and being excessively loud for no apparent reason. Depending on the type of cognitive dysfunction a cat experiences, their condition may or may not respond to treatment. Nonetheless, it’s always important to seek veterinary input if you suspect that your cat is not acting like themselves.

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Conclusion

If you’re curious about whether or not your cat knows their name, it’s safe to assume that cats do know their name. However, whether or not they respond to their name being called is a different matter, and often comes down to your cat’s personality and how they’re feeling when they’re called.

Unfortunately, memory loss is a known ailment in cats, and may be accompanied with several signs, including not recognizing their name anymore. If you suspect that your cat has a memory ailment, it’s best to seek veterinary input to determine if this is indeed true.  


Featured Image Credit: birgl, Pixabay

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