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Can Cats Recognize Faces? Vet-Approved Science & Facts

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on May 16, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

woman resting with cat in sofa at home

Can Cats Recognize Faces? Vet-Approved Science & Facts

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

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

Learn more »

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 worshiped and treated like gods?

Wealthy Egyptian families would take the time to dress their cats in jewelry to honor these magical creatures. Cats in 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 usually 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.

cat face divider 2

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 help humans with hunting, 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. Cats were welcome around human settlements, as they were important to keep vermin populations in control as agriculture boomed in ancient society.

Although cats’ history with humans postulates that they did not need to recognize the faces of humans, at first, times have changed. Over around 10,000 years, cats have evolved alongside humans and it is thought that cats can indeed recognize their owners 1. Many studies show that they do recognize humans by using different cues in addition to their  faces – such as their voices 2.

Cat Licking or kissing Owners Nose
Image by: 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

Cats that are socialized from an early age tend to recognize their caretakers over time, and can easily distinguish them from unfamiliar faces over time. This ability is greatly absent in cats that aren’t socialized, therefore, it is believed that cats are able to learn what their owner looks like.

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, regardless of whether the person was familiar or unfamiliar to the cat.

birgl_Pixabay
Image Credit: 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 their body against yours? They are 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: Krakenimages.com, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

While not as good at recognizing faces as dogs, cats can still recognize people’s faces, including their owners. Cats just have a unique way of showing 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 their routines and patterns!

See also: 


Featured Image Credit: Yuriy Seleznev, Shutterstock

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