Can Cats Understand What Humans Say? [How They Understand You]

Can Cats Understand What Humans Say?

If you’re someone who spends a long time talking to your cat, or if you’ve listened to other people doing so, you might be wondering if this is a sensible thing to do. Can cats comprehend what we’re saying? Why do we talk to them so much if not?

Can Cats Understand What Humans Say?

Cats don’t process human language the same way we do. Instead, they use your tone, vocalization, and body language to interpret what you’re saying.

Some people claim that their cats understand certain words, or at least recognize them – but we don’t really know yet if cats attach meaning to words the way people do.

I love my cat as much as anyone else, and this is why I wanted to know what my cats think when I talk to them. Here’s what I found, and hopefully, it helps you better understand your feline friends.

As a pet owner, it’s vital to understand the cat tail language. Your cat is trying to tell you something by using its tail.

Does My Cat Know Its Name?

According to HillsPet, your cat might know its name, yes. It’s been noted that cats respond when their humans say their names, although you may not feel that your pet does so – I’lll cover why in a moment.

It seems likely that cats can recognize the distinct pattern of sound that we repeatedly make when interacting with them. They certainly listen to it, and with their level of intelligence, it is not surprising if they also recognize that the word is associated with them.

Domesticated felines may not have an understanding that it is a name, however, because we don’t really know if cats understand names in the way that people do. They may simply think that you are saying something like “listen.”

While they understand the sound is connected to them, they may not realize that it has no meaning beyond them. Perhaps, one day we’ll have a better idea of exactly what cats think when they hear their names.

Your cat may or may not “know its name,” but some cats certainly do recognize the name we have attached to them. Whether they choose to acknowledge it is another issue!

Why Doesn’t My Cat Respond To Its Name?

There are two options here. The first is that your cat simply doesn’t want to. These are highly independent creatures, and they like us to know it. If your cat is ignoring your calls, it’s likely just because it doesn’t feel like responding to you right now.

The other alternative is that your cat is responding, but not in a way that you recognize. The cat may not meow just because you have called it; they rarely use verbal communication in this way. Instead, your cat is probably acknowledging you in other ways.

You have to watch your cat’s body language to interpret whether it is ignoring you. For example, if your cat turns its head or even just its ears or adjusts its posture, it is responding to its name.

You might think that unless the cat comes when called, it isn’t responding – but remember that cats aren’t like dogs or people. They don’t necessarily associate the sound of their name with an instruction to move toward you. They may simply think that you are talking to them.

There are many responses besides a vocal one, so look at your cat’s movements and posture to determine whether it reacts to its name.

Can Cats Learn Other Words?

So, if you can teach a cat its name, can you teach it other words too? It’s thought that cats can learn words, and FAQCats claims that felines learn between twenty and forty words. That may not be a vast number, but it’s probably enough to improve communication with your cat if you teach it words.

What words your cat learns will depend a lot on you, and there aren’t any standard phrases that they will just know. 

It’s probable that your cat will learn words associated with food since they are interested in learning these and are likely to be paying attention when you say them.

For example, you may be able to teach your cat the word “treats” or “biscuits,” especially if you rattle a packet at the same time as speaking.

You might also be able to teach your cat the word “come” or even the word “no.” 

Of course, there is no guarantee that they will listen to it, as most cats are less trainable than dogs and prefer to do things on their terms rather than because they have been told to.

However, it seems likely that they understand, even if they don’t always respond as you would like them to. Of course, that may make it more frustrating when they don’t do what you want!

How Can I Teach My Cat Words?

So, how can felines be taught words? Well, you need to choose words that are pinned to a clear idea. For example, “treats” can be tied easily to a treat packet. This has the benefit of also containing a reward for the cat and creating a positive association.

You would be unlikely to teach a cat a more abstract term like “painting” because they simply don’t have a concept of it.

The word “no” can often be taught, but you might notice that your cat responds as much to your tone and behavior as to the actual sound you make. When you say “no” to your cat, you probably automatically lower your voice and make it louder.

Therefore, your cat can read that you are not happy about something and will (sometimes) respond by stopping whatever it was doing or going elsewhere. 

Many cats will not do this simply because they are stubborn, but that doesn’t mean they have failed to understand you.

Try and speak clearly and a little more slowly when attempting to teach a cat a word. This will give them time to hear the pronunciation. Use the same word every time, and they may start to respond to it.

What Do I Need Besides Sound?

To teach a cat a new word, you also need to find a motivator for them. This will usually be food, as positive reinforcement is better than negative. You will have to use your tone of voice and your body language.

Cats read a lot in body language, so if you want to teach your cat something positive, you’ll need to learn what gestures you subconsciously make that indicate you are pleased. You should also learn how cats show this so that you can use both.

For example, slow blinks are commonly used to show trust – so if you slow blink at your cat, you are sending a positive message. If, instead, you stare hard at them and refuse to blink or look away, you are challenging them.

Using the latter action with a strong, deep “no” will show your cat clearly that they are doing something they shouldn’t be.

The tone and the body language are often more important to the cat than the actual words you are saying. You can test this by saying your cat’s name in different tones and seeing how they respond.

High intonations and a friendly voice are much more likely to get a response than angry, deep speech.

Final Thoughts

So, it’s likely that cats can understand, or at least recognize, some of the words we say. However, how much they understand what intent those words convey is difficult to ascertain. 

Often, a particular inflection with a different word will produce the same response because your cat listens to how you say something more than what you are saying.

Try calling your cat with a certain tone, and then put another word in and use the same tone. You may well get the same reaction regardless of the word!

No matter whether your cat understands you or not, you shouldn’t stop the behavior. After all, they are your baby, and if you enjoy talking to them, they most likely enjoy hearing your voice.