Your cat really does prefer your voice to that of a stranger’s


Unlike dogs, which often enthusiastically respond to everyone, cats choosily respond only to their owner’s voice with an increase in certain behaviours


25 October 2022

A woman and a cat

Cats respond preferentially to the voice of their owner

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

Indoor cats move their heads and ears more when their owners speak in a high-pitched “kitty voice”, but not when strangers do so.

Unlike dogs, which respond to speech directed at them whether it is from their owners or strangers, cats only seem to respond when the speaker is their owner. This may suggest that cats and the humans they live with bond through their own unique form of communication with each other, says Charlotte de Mouzon at the University of Paris Nanterre in France.

De Mouzon and her colleagues tested the behaviour of 16 cats, 9 male and 7 female, living in small studio apartments, either as single pets with a female owner, or in pairs of cats with a heterosexual couple. The cats ranged in age from 8 months to 2 years old, and their owners were all veterinary students at the National Veterinary School in Alfort, near Paris.

The team recorded the owners speaking in French to their cats at home as they called the pet by name in the high-pitched voice they normally used in that situation. The owners also made a statement relating to one of four contexts. These included: “Do you want to play?”, “Do you want to eat?”, “See you later!” and “How are you?”. The team then recorded the pet owners saying the same statements to people, but using the style of speech they typically used with friends or adult family members.

Sixteen women – not known by the cats – also had their voices recorded as they said the same four statements to adult humans or to cats they saw in videos in de Mouzon’s laboratory.

The cats heard all the recordings in their own homes – with the owner present but not interacting with them – and when they heard the voices of their owners, they exhibited an increase in looking around, moving their ears and tails, and other active behaviours.

Even when they heard strangers speaking to them in an affectionate manner, calling them by name and inviting them to play or eat, the cats essentially ignored them, says de Mouzon. However, that could be related to the fact that all the cats were exclusively indoor cats with few opportunities to interact with strangers, she adds.

The findings support growing evidence that cats have developed strong social cognitive skills, and that they are “sensitive and communicative individuals”, she says.

“We know that they react to this kind of speech, and it’s a good way for cats to know that we’re addressing them,” says de Mouzon. “So, we should feel confident about speaking to our cats with this kind of ‘baby talk.’”

Journal reference: Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w

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