Do Cats Understand Words

icon July 11, 2024

Cats have a reputation for being independent and aloof, often perceived as less responsive to human commands and words than dogs. However, this perception is not entirely accurate. While cats may not respond to verbal commands in the same way that dogs do, they are indeed capable of understanding words to some extent. This article will explore the intricacies of feline communication, examining how many words cats can understand, what cats hear when we talk to them, whether they enjoy being spoken to, and the types of words they are most likely to comprehend.

Do Cats Understand Words?

Cats are intelligent animals with sophisticated communication systems. While they do not understand human language in the same way humans do, they can learn to associate certain sounds and words with specific actions, objects, or outcomes. For instance, many cats recognize the sound of their name and will respond to it by looking at or approaching the person who called them. This response indicates that cats can understand words at least in a basic associative manner.


Research has shown that cats are more likely to respond to their names when spoken by their owners compared to strangers. A study published in the journal 'Scientific Reports' found that cats can distinguish their names from other words in a string of spoken words, even when spoken by someone other than their owner. This ability suggests that cats have a level of word recognition and can differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar sounds.

How Many Words Can Cats Understand?

The number of words a cat can understand varies depending on the individual cat and the amount of training and interaction they have had with humans. On average, cats are believed to understand around 20 to 40 words. This number is significantly lower than that of dogs, who can learn to understand hundreds of words and commands. However, this does not mean that cats are less intelligent than dogs; it simply reflects the differences in the ways these two species have evolved to interact with humans.

Cats are more likely to understand words that are frequently used in their daily lives and are associated with specific actions or rewards. For example, words related to food, treats, play, and affection are often well-understood by cats. Phrases like "dinner time," "treat," "play," and "good kitty" are commonly recognized by many cats.

What Do Cats Hear When We Talk to Them?

When humans speak, cats hear a combination of sounds, tones, and pitches. Cats have excellent hearing, with the ability to detect frequencies ranging from 48 Hz to 85 kHz, which is significantly broader than the human hearing range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. This acute sense of hearing allows cats to pick up on subtle changes in tone and pitch in human speech.

High-pitched Sound:

Cats are particularly attuned to high-pitched sounds, which is why they may be more responsive to a higher-pitched voice. When we talk to cats, they are likely focusing on the intonation and rhythm of our speech rather than the specific words. This focus on tone and pitch is why many cats respond better to a gentle, soothing voice compared to a loud or harsh one.

Non-verbal Cues:

Cats also rely heavily on non-verbal cues and body language when interacting with humans. They observe our facial expressions, gestures, and movements to understand our intentions and emotions. This reliance on non-verbal communication means that the context in which words are spoken plays a crucial role in how cats interpret our speech.

Do Cats Like It When You Talk to Them?

Many cat owners wonder whether their feline companions enjoy being spoken to. While cats may not understand the exact words being spoken, they often appreciate the attention and the sound of their owner's voice. Talking to cats can be a way of bonding and building a relationship with them.

Cats are known for their ability to pick up on human emotions and moods. They can sense when their owners are happy, sad, or stressed and may respond accordingly. Speaking to cats in a calm, affectionate manner can help them feel more secure and connected to their owners. Some cats even appear to enjoy "conversations" with their owners, responding with purrs, meows, or other vocalizations.

However, it's important to recognize that individual cats have different preferences. While some cats may relish being spoken to and will actively seek out interaction, others may be more reserved and prefer less verbal communication. Paying attention to a cat's body language and behavior can help owners determine how their cat feels about being spoken to and adjust their interactions accordingly.
Related: How Do You Know If Your Cat Is Happy

What Kind of Words Do Cats Understand?

Cats are more likely to understand words and phrases that are relevant to their daily lives and are associated with specific actions or rewards. Here are some examples of the types of words that cats are most likely to understand:

1. Names and Nicknames:

Many cats recognize their own names and will respond when called. They may also learn to respond to nicknames or variations of their names.

2. Commands:

Basic commands like "come," "sit," or "stay" can be understood by some cats, especially if they have been trained using positive reinforcement techniques.

3. Food-Related Words:

Words related to feeding time, such as "dinner," "treat," "food," or "eat," are often well-understood by cats. These words are usually associated with positive outcomes, making them more memorable.

4. Affectionate Phrases:

Phrases like "good kitty," "I love you," or "nice cat" can be recognized by cats, especially when spoken in a gentle and affectionate tone.

5. Play-Related Words:

Words associated with playtime, such as "toy," "play," "ball," or "mouse," can be understood by cats who enjoy interactive play with their owners.
Also Read: How To Play With A Cat

6. Routine Words:

Words that are part of a cat's daily routine, such as "bedtime," "outside," "inside," or "car," can be recognized by cats who have established routines with their owners.

How Do Cats Learn Words?

Cats learn words through repetition and association. When a specific word or phrase is consistently used in conjunction with a particular action or outcome, cats begin to form associations between the sound of the word and the corresponding event. For example, if a cat hears the word "treat" every time they are given a treat, they will eventually learn to associate the sound of the word with the positive outcome of receiving a treat.

Positive reinforcement is a key factor in helping cats learn words. Rewarding cats with treats, affection, or play when they respond to specific words can reinforce the association between the word and the desired behavior. Over time, cats can learn to recognize and respond to a variety of words and phrases that are relevant to their daily lives.


Cats may not understand words in the same way humans do, but they are capable of learning to recognize and respond to certain words and phrases through repetition and association. While the number of words a cat can understand is relatively limited compared to dogs, cats can still develop a meaningful understanding of words that are relevant to their daily lives and interactions with their owners. By paying attention to a cat's responses and preferences, owners can enhance their communication with their feline companions and strengthen the bond they share.

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