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Can Cats Recognize Faces? What Science Says

woman resting with cat in sofa at home
Image Credit: Yuriy Seleznev, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

In Ancient Egypt, keeping pets was already a very common practice. Families would keep dogs that were well-loved not just for their companionship but for the different tasks that they were able to perform as part of the family. However, cats were treated differently. Did you know that cats in Ancient Egypt were worshipped and treated like gods?

Wealthy Egyptian families would take the time to dress their cats in jewelry to honor of these magical creatures. Cats in the Ancient Egyptian culture lived in luxury in the care of their owners, and this spoiling of our furry friends is seen even in the modern-day. Although cat owners no longer treat their pet cats as gods, cats are generally spoiled pets even in today’s setting.

But with all this treatment that humans give cats, do cats even bother to recognize their owner? Can cats recognize faces?

While the short answer is yes, cats do not really recognize humans the way we would normally think they do.

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Can Cats Recognize Faces?

The truth is cats never really had the need to recognize human faces. Unlike dogs that were domesticated for their ability to perform certain tasks, cats just happened to wander into human societies due to the abundance of rodents and other natural prey. Cats naturally co-existed with humans, while dogs were trained to complete tasks.

Although cats’ history with humans dictates that they did not need to recognize the faces of humans, many studies show that they do recognize humans by using different cues other than faces.

Cat Licking or kissing Owners Nose
Image Credit: Creative Cat Studio, Shutterstock


How Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?

Cats do not simply rely on vision alone to recognize humans. While they can recognize a person’s face, they also use their other senses to distinguish one person from another.

Cats Recognize Faces

A study by the Pennsylvania State University in 2005 found that both dogs and cats can recognize their owners’ faces through picture cut-outs alone. While dogs performed better in the task, cats were also found to be able to identify the faces of other cats through picture cut-outs, indicating that cats recognize faces.

Another indication that cats can recognize people’s faces was an experiment performed by Oakland University in 2015 that found that cats behave differently around people when showing different facial expressions, such as happy or sad, regardless of whether the person was familiar or unfamiliar to the cat.

domestic cat looking up
Image by: birgl, Pixabay

Cats Recognize Voices

Cats are also able to recognize voices. An experiment by the University of Tokyo found that cats would show a change of behavior, such as tail, ear, or eye movements, when hearing a familiar voice. Cats would also perform localization by orienting themselves to people’s voices, indicating vocal recognition.

Cats Recognize Scents

Just like other animals, cats have a very acute sense of smell. They can recognize the scents of different people, animals, and themselves! Have you ever noticed your cat rub her body against yours? She is actually transferring her scent to you!

Routines & Patterns

Cats are creatures of habit. With that said, cats are also able to recognize routines of patterns that benefit them. They are aware of who in the house gives them food, snacks, and water.

Beautiful feline cat eating on a metal bowl
Image Credit:, Shutterstock

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While not as good at recognizing faces as dogs, cats are still able to recognize people’s faces, including their owners. Cats just have a unique way of doing it, using different cues through their other senses, and integrating them with the sight of their owner’s faces.

Cats recognize their owners through the sight of their faces, the sound of their voices, the smell of their scent, and the routines and patterns of their owners!

Related Read: 

Featured Image Credit: Yuriy Seleznev, Shutterstock

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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