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Why Don’t Cats Listen? 5 Interesting Reasons

old calico cat
Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

One of the many perks of dog ownership is the feeling of being heard. Sit, heel, and stay commands bring satisfaction with every bit of obedience, but pups show understanding even when we’re venting. They’ll recoil through an outburst or offer affection during a breakdown, acting in a way they think is appropriate for their owner. They pay attention and respond accordingly.

And then, there are cats. Lob those same commands you’d use with the dog at a cat, and you’ll hit only a brick wall of stony indifference. Sure, our cats can be affectionate and loving, but almost any feline seemingly couldn’t care less about what you want.

Cats may be able to hear three times better than humans, but they sure can’t listen. If you’re wondering why your calls and commands go unheeded, we’ll explain why cats don’t listen and what you can do about it.

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The 5 Reasons Why Cats Don’t Seem to Listen to You

1. Cats Are Independent

Cats can be loyal and loving, but they don’t necessarily rely on their owner in the way we expect from dogs. Studies on pet attachment have shown a significant amount of independence in cats.1 They don’t have the same response to their owner leaving as canines, indicating lower levels of security and safety attachment.

Cats don’t always need our reassurance, but they likely still prefer being with people. A later study showed that cats displayed more vocal responses to owners after separation, possibly indicating a desire for socialization and connection with humans.2 The cat’s background as a solitary predator could play a role in its independent personality, while the pack mentality of dogs encourages stronger interdependent relationships.

2. You’re Using the Wrong Tone

You don’t have to speak your cat’s language to make them hear you, but you do have to use the proper tone. A study on how cats respond to different speech patterns showed that they distinguish their owner’s voice and the tones directed at them.3

Just as we use baby talk with infants, we often talk to our cats in a specific voice. Using cat-directed speech in the sing-songy way many naturally use with their pets may also help them understand when to respond. Cats don’t know what words mean but rather the associations of the sounds of words, yet grabbing their initial attention may hinge on whether you’re using the proper pitch.

In other words, talk to your cat in your distinct cooing voice. There’s no need for embarrassment; it could even influence a stronger bond with your pet.

chinchilla silver manx cat
Image Credit: applevinci, Shutterstock

3. Cats Are Reward-Seeking

One primary reason your cat doesn’t listen is that it isn’t getting the proper rewards. Expecting a cat to do something without making it worth its while will only end in disappointment. But fortunately, reward-seeking also offers hope that your cat is trainable. The trick is finding the perfect treat that will get your cat to pay attention, which isn’t always as easy as it may seem.

4. Your Cat Is Scared

Punishments are counterproductive with cats. Due to their independent nature, they generally won’t try to understand negative cues as a dog would in an attempt to fix the behavior and please you. Instead, your cat might ignore you.

Yelling, spraying with water, or swatting could put your cat on the defensive, making it view you as a potential threat to avoid. We should ignore or redirect poor behavior, so we can reward our cats later. Punishments will often only lead to trust issues that will be an obstacle to overcome before you can hope to work on listening skills.

5. Your Cat Is Sick

If your cat is suddenly not listening to you and there is no novel stressor in the house, such as a new pet or a change in routine, your cat may be sick.

Cats hide illnesses and injuries as a natural way of protecting themselves. Consider any new stimuli affecting their behavior to rule out any transient agitation. When nothing has changed, yet your cat isn’t following the rules, acting sociable, or behaving normally, it could be worth discussing with your vet.

Old age, injury, and disease or infections may be causing discomfort or anxiety. Making adjustments to keep them comfortable will ensure they listen as well as possible and keep your frustration to a minimum.

Tuxedo ragdoll cat sitting inside the house
Image Credit: Liao Zhiwo Henry, Shutterstock

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What to Do When Your Cat Doesn’t Listen

A misbehaving cat can drive you up the wall, but it’s crucial to avoid letting your anger or frustration boil over when they start knocking plants off shelves and cups off tables. Cats aren’t trying to be malicious. They only do what comes naturally or try to communicate in unique, albeit irritating, ways.

When they act up, don’t squirt your cats with spray bottles, yell at them, or act domineering. Abuse will make your cat more stressed and scared, and directing the desirable behavior will only be more difficult.

Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and redirection. Promote only good behaviors instead of punishing bad ones. Rewards like treats, affection, toys, and playtime are excellent starting points. Cats can be highly receptive and even easy to train when they have incentives and feel comfortable.

Adjust the Environment

Cats have the instincts to claw, climb, and wreak havoc in several ways. Rather than constantly managing the behavior, having an accommodating environment will push more favorable actions. Set up a scratching post to keep your cat off the furniture, or give it a cat tree if it’s always on your desk. Give your cat plenty of toys and distractions to keep them from misbehaving.

Make sure your cat enjoys plenty of socializing. Cats are more likely to listen when they’re comfortable. Acclimating your pet to people and other animals at a young age will be crucial in easing communication issues.

kittens training
Image Credit: Anatoliy Cherkas, Shutterstock

How Do You Train a Cat That Doesn’t Listen?

Train your cat to follow commands and establish proper behaviors by setting up a reward system. Keep your cat’s treats or toys handy, and be ready to endorse positive habits as you see them. It takes time and trust, so maintaining positivity and patience will be essential to getting results. But if you work with your cat’s needs and stay consistent, you should establish an effective dynamic with your pet.

Clicker Method

The clicker method is a standard training technique for dogs, but many find it equally effective for their cats. With this method, you can train commands by associating positive behaviors with rewards and a click.

Eventually, the cat connects the action with the click or some other affirmation. Find a quiet room to practice. Keep training sessions short to only about 2–5 minutes to keep your cat from becoming bored.

Start by linking the click to the reward. Click the clicker, and give the cat a treat immediately. Repeat this several times, and you’ll notice your cat reacting to the clicker before getting their snack.

Once your cat develops a solid association, use the clicker to indicate good behaviors. If you say “Down” when your cat is on the counter, click the clicker immediately if it gets down and offer a treat.

Over time, you can switch up the rewards, so you aren’t always giving it food. Offer praise, toys, and affection. Eventually, you can stop giving treats (other than praise) altogether when you use the command.

Calico cat with ears pointing up
Image Credit: akirEVarga, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

There are several reasons your cat may not listen to you. Maybe it’s mad that you stepped on its tail, or perhaps you haven’t been offering the attention it deserves. If your cat isn’t giving you the time of day, try to fix the relationship, giving it more care and affection to improve your bond. From there, you can help it correct its behaviors.

Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, 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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