Does Your Cat Listen to You? Does She Care What You Say?


A team of behavior researchers at Tokyo University has discovered that cats respond to their caretakers’ voices. Not only that, but they typically ignore the voices of strangers.

Of course, this finding comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever lived with a cat.

Every cat I’ve ever known and loved has responded to my voice. When I call Siouxsie’s name, she turns to look at me, her eyes and ears attentive. If I talk to Thomas while he’s sitting on my lap in full-on purr mode, he purrs even more loudly and rubs his head against my hand if I tell him, "Oh, Thomas, you’re such a sweet boy."

Bella knows her name, and when I call her with the "come here, I’d love to pet you" voice, she comes trotting over with her tail held high and starts purring before I even reach a hand down to stroke her head.

Cats recognize their names when they hear them spoken over the phone, too. I talk regularly with my best friend, Adrianna, and we always update each other on our cats. Adrianna particularly likes Thomas, so she asks about him first. As soon as I say his name, he hops into my lap and starts purring. When he hears Adrianna’s voice — and he hears it loud and clear even when I’m using my headset — he rubs his head on the phone.

Siouxsie also responds when Adrianna says her name during a phone conversation. She hops up into my lap and responds in her whiskey-and-cigarettes "Grrrrank?"– which means, "Hello, how are you?" in Siouxsie-speak.

On the other hand, if someone they don’t know comes to visit, they’re much more likely to hang back and wait before offering the stranger the privilege of their company. That’s why I made sure my cats met my cat sitter before I left for a recent trip, and I ensured that she stayed long enough for the cats to get comfortable enough to approach her for affection.

Strangers aren’t the only people my cats ignore. They ignore toddlers, vet techs, people who smell like dogs, and my mother (I guess that’s fair; my mother’s cat ignores me). They also ignore me when I tell them something they don’t want to hear — like the word "no," for example.

I’m pretty sure "no" simply isn’t in a cat’s vocabulary, so there’s no way for them to translate that word from human languages.

My cats also ignore my Exclamation Point Voice.

Bella has a thing for chewing on cardboard, and I happen to have a set of Catty Stacks in my office. Almost every day while I’m checking my email, I’ll hear the telltale "pop, rip, rip; pop, rip, rip" of Bella acting out her odd fetish.

"Belladonna! Moonshadow! Kelley! You stop that right now!" I’ll say. She’ll look up at me for a second and then get right back to her chewing.

"Get off the counter!" has similar results — not just with Bella, but with all of my cats — as do "Get your butt out of my face!" and "Quit walking on my bladder!"

My conclusion is that cats are happy to listen to you and accommodate your requests as long as you’re asking them to do something nice, like getting into your lap for some petties. If, on the other hand, you’re conveying a message that implies they’re anything less than furry little gods whose every action is perfection, you’re more likely to get static.

I don’t care, though. I love my cats to pieces and couldn’t imagine life without them!

Do your cats respond to your voice? Do they listen when you ask them to do something? Do they carry on conversations with you, responding to your every sentence? How do they react when strangers call them? Share your stories in the comments!

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