Cats know their own names, according to the authors of a study that could raise questions for pet owners, who wonder whether their furry friends purposefully ignore them.
Scientists in Japan observed a total of 78 domesticated cats, some in the households and others in a cat cafe where they lived. In four separate experiments, the pet owners and researchers said the animals' names, as well as nouns with a similar length and rhythm, and the names of other cats.
If a cat meowed or moved its ears or head, the researchers noted this down as the cat recognizing its name. To make sure the cat wasn't just reacting to any utterances, the team repeatedly said words until the cats stopped responding, and then said their names and watched for a reaction.
"We conclude that cats can discriminate the content of human utterances based on phonemic differences." the authors wrote in their study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
However, cat cafe cats were unable to differentiate between their own names and those of their feline counterparts.
The authors argued cats can likely pick up on their names because doing so could lead them to rewards like food or playtime. But cat cafe cats probably get the connection between their name and rewards confused as many different humans with different voices give them rewards, and they often hear the names of other animals.
Dr. Atsuko Saito, co-author of the study at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human Sciences at Sophia University in Japan told Newsweek: "Many cat owners know that cats understand their own names. However, there are no scientific evidence about that ability.
"There are so many studies about dog ability to communicate with humans. We think it is important to show the abilities of cats."
However, Saito acknowledged the researchers could have gone further by using animals from more than one cat cafe.
"Results from the cat cafe may be difficult to generalized to other cats from other cat cafes," she said, pointing out a limitation of the study.
Cats and humans have been living together for around 9,500 years, but scientists only recently started investigating the communication skills of cats, the authors pointed out. But the evidence suggests the creatures are able to pick up on cues given by humans.
One 2005 study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, for instance, indicated cats can find hidden food in a human points at it.