Cat’s don’t come when called!

But cat owners know that, don’t they? And still love their cats.

New research from the University of Japan has put cats to the test. Do they actually hear their owners? Do they recognise us? Do they ignore us?

sleeping on towels
Leo ignoring Dr Jo!

Researchers played the sounds of strangers calling the cat’s name, then the owner, then strangers again. The cat’s behaviour was monitored, looking for body and facial movements and any noise, such as meows, that they make.

Cats did respond, even to strangers, moving their head and ears. They responded clearly to the sound of their owner’s voice. Comforting to owners 🙂 Ok, so there was no rushing to greet the owner, no communicative behaviour such as meowing or tail wagging but there was orienting behaviour – head and ear movement.

In an animal that has 32 muscles in each ear and who spends up to 80% of the day snoozing, this is not a surprising result. A conservative, yet effective, use of energy. I suspect that if the researchers played sounds of cat food tins being opened or biscuits tins being rattled, they might see a little more feline animation.

This does tell us that cats may be tuned in to the sounds of their owners. Perhaps we have not walked along the evolutionary pathway for a long enough time to expect cats to respond more to our dulcet tomes. Perhaps they never will. Most owners enjoy the independent streak of the domestic cat. and if they wanted a more effusive greeting, well they would get a dog!

Test your cat
Test your cat by calling their name. Watch how they respond. Let me know what your cat does.

Train your cat
Cats can be trained to come when called. Just shake their cat biscuits, or tap on their food dish, calling their name. Repeat this as often as possible and your cat will learn to come to you. Offer treats occasionally too and, at other times simply a pat, to strengthen the command. Here’s more on how to train your cat…

Link to original research

More about the study

More about cats



  1. I have one cat who usually comes when I call her, and another who answers back! (One of her many nicknames is ‘Little Miss Chatterbox.’) Both are very shy around visitors though, so others don’t have the same result. After a while, Mocha (the one who comes when I call her) will come and watch visitors from a distance, but that’s it – unless there’s food involved!

    1. My cats not only know their names and come when called, they come if I whistle for them as well. If I speak to them, using their name, they clearly react, either by meowing, or some of them (I have 6) will run to me and start to rub against my legs or other objects, a couple throw themselves to the floor and roll around, one of them arches her back and starts purring, another wriggles around and meows at me until I give him the attention he expects. One particularly clever girl will play fetch and she is trained to jump into a plastic tub when told, for the occasional times she manages to escape the house and get up in a tree or on the roof, so I can get her down. I have another that plays tag with me. I chase him, he runs, then I run and he chases me. That can go back and forth for quite awhile. They also come running to greet me when I’ve been out of the house for a little while. They get clearly excited that I am home, running around, rolling on the floor, lots of sniffing to see where I’ve been and what I was up to. For me, they are as responsive as dogs. All it takes is understanding how they think and spending time with them.

  2. Erin, I love all your games with your cats. My 3 love to have fun together but my dog Chilli acts as the cat fun police! She stops them every time they start to enjoy themselves, then runs to me and looks at me as if I’m going to make them behave. I take her out walking so they can play together!

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