There is no doubt that cats do recognize us, their owners. You’ve likely noticed that cats greet and have different attitudes towards certain family members. They also tend to beg food from the exact person who is in charge of feeding them and no one else.
Many cats are fearful of people in general, except their owners. Besides, cat owners, without doubt, experience all kinds of situations that won’t be able without cats recognizing them individually. So, that is out of the question.
But how do they do it? Do cats recognize our faces or our scents? Can they tell us apart by our gait or sounds that we make? Let’s find out.
First off, it is unlikely that they do it by only one of these means. Like yourself, do you recognize your friends by their face, voice or clothes? Many of you will noddingly agree that it is a combination of these things. Of course, we cannot compare cats directly to ourselves. Mainly, becasue their senses, though similar, are tuned differently than ours.
Do cats recognize our faces, voices or scents?
For example, cats’ vision, except for night time, is not that good as ours. We primarily rely on visuals ourselves, and that is why we intuitively tend to seek for cats’ abilities to recognize ourselves visually.
A study tested face recognition abilities in pets and concluded that “dogs, but not cats, can readily recognize the face of their handler.” The study, however, was reported in a conference and nothing more than it’s abstract is published; thus specifics of their testing details are not written out.
Interestingly, however, is that cats were able to recognize the faces of other cats from their household. We think the future exploration of this topic should be worthy. For example, even if cats may not be good with human faces, there may be other visual features about us, such as our gait, shape, hair, clothes or even our behavior. But without sight, there are other senses, too.
Hearing and recognizing voices is something that we both, cats and us, can relate to. Besides, human voice recognition is one of the few cat abilities that scientists have successfully tested and confirmed.
In one study, cats listened to recordings of their owners and strangers saying their names.
Of course, initially, any sound is likely to alert the cat. The trick is, however, after several repeats of strangers calling him, a cat would lose interest. What was notable, is that cats instantaneously regained alertness upon hearing the voice of their owner.
Even more so, further studies revealed that cats not only recognize their owner’s voice but also distinguish their names from random words and even from the names of other cats in the same household.
Cats’ ability to recognize voices may come as no surprise. After all, they rely on hearing to locate and catch their prey. Cats’ hearing is better than ours not only because the can hear beyond our thresholds, but also because, unlike us, they are able to pinpoint the location of sound with great precision.
One more thing, we know that cats are good with smells. Well, not as good as dogs, but definitely better than us.
Scent is a communication tool for cats. They leave scent markers and investigate these left by other cats. That is something you expect in animals with naturally large territories, as they rarely meet face to face with each other, and need a communication system over a distance.
In this sense, scents have a huge role for cats to recognize other cats. Queens sense their kittens by their smell and also kittens can find where to suckle with the help of smell. And even though many researchers point to the fact that cats individually recognize other cats through their scent, yet we lack investigation whether they also do so to recognize individual humans. However, given that people have their individual smell, we would not be surprised if it were true.
In the end, though there is no doubt that cats recognize people individually, there is still a shroud of a mystery how they do it. We are very inclined to relate to ourselves as an example, but forget that cats view the world in a slightly different way than we do. This means that cats not necessarily use the same means of recognizing individuals as we do.