Multi-Cat Household? Your cats might know the names of their housemates!
As humans, we have words to refer to objects, people, pets - almost anything we can think of. These words conjure up an image in our minds when we hear or read them. For example, if we hear the word "car," we can imagine what a car looks like even if we can't directly see one. This is referred to as referential signalling and is also seen in animals such as monkeys and dogs.
A great example of a dog carrying out this is when an owner teaches "names" for toys and then asks the dog to fetch them. It is also thought that dogs can understand human speech to some degree in more neutral settings when not being directly asked to do something.
Similar to dogs, cats have also been shown to pick up on our behaviours when around us at home. They can tell the difference between our facial expressions, identify our voices and match our voice to our face.
A recent study looked at whether house cats that learned human words indicated specific objects in their daily life. The results showed that when hearing another cat's name, house cats expected the corresponding face. Interestingly, café cats did not adjust to the names of their fellow cats. Cats in households with more family members were also better able to distinguish their companions (both human and feline).
These results tell us that our cats might learn each other's names (and ours and potentially other pets) from watching interactions between us and other family members. The study also found that the longer cats had been part of a household, the more easily they were able to match another cat's face to its name.
So, what reason do our cats have for learning our names and the names of their feline buddies? In multi-cat households, one possible explanation for this might be to do with food. A cat might receive food when an owner calls its name but not when another cat's name is called. In this way, your cat might be deciding whether it's worth it to rush to its food bowl if you haven't called its name or continue that nap in her favourite spot!
Although cats are usually solitary predators, multi-cat households have become more common in recent years. Cats have shown to be remarkably adaptive in that they can form social groups within a household relatively easily; however, sometimes tension between members of a household can cause issues. If you are struggling with issues in your multi-cat home, Wiser Whiskers can help. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with us with any concerns you might have for your feline housemates!