Cats Can Tell When You Are Talking to Them

Medscape Staff

December 28, 2022

Cats may not recognize when a stranger talks to them, but they are familiar enough with their owners' voices that they recognize they are being spoken to, according to researchers as from Université Paris Nanterre, Nanterre, France.

What to Know

  • Humans use different tones of voice that change accordingly when they are talking to adults or children as well as when they are talking to dogs and cats.

  • As indicated by behaviors such as ear moving, pupil dilation, and tail twitching, most cats knew right away when it was their owner's voice talking to them and calling their name but failed to react significantly to a stranger's voice.

  • The cats displayed few behaviors when their owner directed their speech elsewhere, such as to another adult, but significantly increased their behavior when the owner's voice became cat-directed.

  • The cats showed no change in behavior when a stranger was speaking, and it didn't matter whether the stranger was using a tone directed at adults or a tone directed at cats.

  • The cats could recognize when their owner switched tones from talking to an adult to directing their voice to their cat, but the felines did not react when the strangers tried the same change of tones.

  • The study suggests that cat communication potentially relies on their experience with the speaker's voice and that one-to-one relationships are important for cats and humans in forming strong bonds.

This is a summary of the article, "Discrimination of Cat-Directed Speech From Human-Directed Speech in a Population of Indoor Companion Cats (Felis catus)," published by Animal Cognition Network on October 25, 2022. The full article can be found on

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