According to a new study by French researchers, cats can distinguish their owner’s voice from that of a stranger. On top of that, they can also realize when their master is using an artificial voice.
As parents do with babies, most pet owners tend to change their voice and intonation when talking to their pets. Owners will modify their pitch, rhythm, and sounds to get the feline’s attention.
A team of researchers at the Laboratoire Ethologie Cognition Développement (LECD) at the University of Paris Nanterre sought to determine whether or not cats were sensitive to these effects.
The conclusions of their study were published on Monday, October 24, in the journal Animal Cognition. Charlotte de Mouzon, ethologist and specialist in feline behavior, had led this work alongside Marine Gonthier and Gérard Leboucher.
The researchers had 16 cats participate in 3 scenarios where these animals heard pre-recorded voices. In the first, they first listened to a stranger calling them by name, then their owner, before returning to the foreign voice.
Secondly, they heard their owners’ voices while the owners were talking to someone else and then while they were clearly talking to them. In the third and final situation, the cats heard strangers doing the same thing as in the second situation.
The kittens’ reactions were monitored using telltale signs such as dilated pupils and ear moves toward the sound direction. The study’s authors found that 10 out of 16 cats reacted noticeably when they heard their owners’ voices.
They also noted a significant change in behavior when their owners used their cat talk in 10 animals, including eight that had reacted distinctly during the initial experiment.
A cat study confirming many assumptions
For Charlotte de Mouzon and her colleagues, this suggests two things: cats can distinguish their owner’s voice from someone they don’t know. They know when their owner is speaking to them by adopting their cat talk.
We are not only food providers in the eyes of our cats. More globally, these works lead us to think that cats are really sensitive to human language when a familiar person uses it.
The attitude of felines differs from that found in dogs in previous studies. They react to dog talk even when a stranger speaks to them.
This new study provides further evidence that cats do not perceive their owners simply as people who provide them with food and shelter; what binds them to their humans goes far beyond satisfying these basic needs.