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Despite Their Mariah Carey Attitudes, Cats Know Each Other’s Names

They’d probably still say, “I don’t know her.”

by Sio Hornbuckle
August 30, 2022
Two cats laying on a cat bed in the living room looking at each other
A Model Photographer / Stocksy

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Cats are way smarter than people give them credit for.

One reason they’re underestimated is that unlike dogs, most cats aren’t super willing to show off their knowledge for our entertainment. They’re a little more discerning with their time. They could learn that trick if they wanted to, but they have a fake tree that needs scratching. They do know their own names, but coming when we call for them would require moving out of a sunbeam.

And get this: A study published in Scientific Reports found that cats learn the names of their cohabitants, too. That means they’re deliberately aloof, not empty-headed (think Mariah Carey’s “I don’t know her” moment). 

Only cats who live with at least two other cats were studied. Researchers showed the cats images of familiar cats on a monitor after hearing a name — half the time the name matched the cat’s real name, and half the time it matched the name of a different household cat. They tested two groups of cats: some who live in multi-cat households, and some who live in cat cafés. They hypothesized that cats who live in cat cafés would show fewer reactions to mismatched names, because they had less specific exposure to the other cats’ interactions with humans.

They were right; the household cats paid attention to the monitors longer when the names didn’t match, but the café cats didn’t. The longer a cat had lived with their human family, the longer they looked at the monitor when a name didn’t match. This indicates that the cats’ expectations were subverted, which means they expected to hear their fellow feline’s real name. 

So, scientifically, your cat probably knows their counterpart cats’ names, even if they prefer to occupy opposite sides of the apartment. Cats, after all, will be cats — as evidenced by the official scientific report, which clarifies: “One cat completed only the first trial before escaping from the room and climbing out of reach.”

Sounds about right. 

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Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.