Unlike dogs, who frequently respond enthusiastically to everyone, cats change their behavior only in response to their owner's voice.
|Cats prefer to respond to their owner's voice. Getty Images/Adene Sanchez."|
When their owners speak in a high-pitched "kitty voice," indoor cats respond by moving their heads and ears more, but not when strangers do.
Unlike dogs, who respond to speech directed at them from both their owners and strangers, cats appear to respond only when the speaker is their owner. According to Charlotte de Mouzon of the University Paris Nanterre in France, this could imply that cats and their owners bond through their own unique form of communication.
De Mouzon and her colleagues studied the behavior of 16 cats, nine males and seven females, who lived in studio apartments as single pets with female owners or in pairs with heterosexual couples. The cats were between the ages of 8 months and 2 years, and their owners were all veterinary students at the National Veterinary School in Alfort, near Paris.
The owners were recorded calling their cats by name in a high-pitched voice, as they normally would. The owners were also asked to speak in French about one of four scenarios. "Do you want to play?" "Do you want to eat?" "See you later!" and "How are you?" were among them. The team then recorded the pet owners saying the same phrases to people, but this time in the manner of friends or adult family members.
Sixteen unidentified women had their voices recorded as they said the same four things to adult humans and cats that they saw in videos in de Mouzon's laboratory, using the same speaking styles as the cat owners.
All of the recordings were played to the cats in their own homes, with their owners present but not interacting with them. When they heard their owners' voices, the cats would stop what they were doing and do something else, such as looking around, moving their ears and tails, or even becoming completely still.
Even when strangers spoke to them in a high-pitched, affectionate tone, calling them by name and inviting them to play or eat, the cats largely ignored them, according to de Mouzon. However, she believes this could be due to the fact that all of the cats were exclusively indoor pets with few opportunities to interact with strangers.
According to her, the findings provide more evidence that cats have strong social cognitive skills and are "sensitive and communicative individuals."
"We know they react to this type of speech, and it's a good way for cats to know we're talking to them," de Mouzon says. "As a result, we should feel comfortable speaking to our cats in this manner."
DOI: 10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-022-01674-w