Your cat really prefers your voice to a stranger’s

Unlike dogs, who often respond enthusiastically to everyone, cats selectively respond only to their owner’s voice with an increase in certain behaviors


October 25, 2022

Cats preferentially respond to their owner’s voice

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

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

Unlike dogs, which respond to speech directed at them, either 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 way of communicating with each other, says Charlotte de Mouzon of the University of Paris Nanterre in France.

De Mouzon and colleagues tested the behavior of 16 cats, 9 males and 7 females, who lived in small studio apartments, either as single pets with an owner or in cat pairs with a heterosexual partner. The cats were between 8 months and 2 years old and their owners were veterinary students at the National Veterinary School in Alfort, near Paris.

The team recorded owners speaking French to their cats at home while calling the pet by name in the high-pitched voice they normally used in that situation. The owners also made a statement related to one of the 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 normally used with adult friends or family members.

Sixteen women, not known to cats, also recorded their voices as they said the same four statements to adult humans or cats that they saw on video in de Mouzon’s lab.

The cats listened to all the recordings in their own homes, with the owner present but not interacting with them, and when they heard their owners’ voices, they showed an increase in looking around, wagging their ears and tail, and other active behaviors.

Even when they heard strangers speaking affectionately to them, calling their names 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 little opportunity to interact with strangers, he adds.

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

“We know they react to this kind of language and it’s a good way for cats to know we’re talking to them,” says de Mouzon. “So we should feel safe talking to our cats with this kind of ‘baby talk.'”

Magazine reference: animal cognitionDOI: 10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w

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