The Research Is In: Cats Know Their Names

I wish she’d learn “get out of the bloody way!”

The science is in: cats know their names. New research proves what every human slave has known for centuries. In science-speak: “We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances based on phonemic differences.”

As someone who has lived with cats for most of my life (and occasionally dogs) this seems like a forgone conclusion, but I guess we needed the science to make it official.

I have a cat right now, and she understands a lot more than just her name. Here’s a list:

No. If she’s contemplating something that I don’t want, I can tell her ‘no’ and she’ll object, but won’t do it.

Her name. She knows her name applies to her.

Belly rubs. Say “belly rubs?” and the cat meows, moves to the middle of the kitchen floor and rolls over so you can rub her belly.

Food. When the cat is insistently meowing, I can say a bunch of words to her and gauge her reaction. If she’s hungry, when I say ‘food?” she changes her meow and walks to her dish.

Second scoop. Her first food is wet meat, delivered on a plastic lid in the back, her second scoop is dry food delivered in the kitchen. She knows the difference between ‘food’ and ‘second scoop’ and will lead me to the appropriate place.

Beautiful girl, love you lots, hope you enjoy it. She won’t start eating her food (wet or dry) until I say these “the magic words.”

Show Me. If I can’t figure out her needs, I say “show me” and she walks me to whatever is bothering her (her dish, her water, her box, a door she wants to get through).

(edited to add these two)
I can ask her ‘play?’ and if she wants to play, she springs off to a corner and I’m supposed to chase her. Sometimes, rarely, she chases back, but usually it’s up to me to ‘catch’ her.

Treats. Each afternoon, around 5pm, she gets three small treats. When the time is right (often in her head, that’s two hours early) she asks for them by sitting in the middle of he kitchen and meowing until I say the word “treats?” then she heads to the fridge where they’re kept.

My favourite picture of her

And here are a few that I’m not sure she understands, or that she sometimes appears to understand (but that may be coincidental):

Dig. when she wants to scratch something, she has limited places that it’s allowed. I’ll put her on a spot and say “dig” and she does.

Stretch. This one I say when she’s doing it, but a couple of times I’ve said it and she’s looked at me, then done it. Again could just be coincidental, more me predicting what she’s going to do than suggesting it to her.

Sshhh! My wife works shifts. When the cat’s making noise, I can say “sshh,” and she will lower the volume, but not shut up. This one has taken a long time and I still don’t know that she gets it.

My wife’s name. The cat also seems to know that my wife’s name applies to my wife. It’s worth noting that my wife and my cat don’t get along all that well, so it’s hard to judge if my cat always recognizes my wife’s name and only choses to react some times or if she doesn’t quite get that one yet.

I know that she also recognizes a lot of body-language clues and physical gestures. If I snap my fingers three times, moving my hand from her towards me, she knows it means come to me.

So, what does your cat know? How many words or expressions can he or she process successfully?

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