Cats ‘evolved’ to be able to recognise owners’ voices – they just don’t care

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Scientists from the University of Tokyo have discovered something that all cat owners knew already.

Moggies know exactly what’s being said to them, and who’s saying it. They just don’t care.

Researchers Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka, tested the responses of some twenty pet cats in their owners’ homes.

They asked the cats’ owners to call their pest names, and then got a stranger to call them as well.

There was a distinct difference in the way the cats responded to the different voices, with the animals moving their ears to locate the source of the sound and showing various other subconscious responses such as pupil dilation and small ‘displacement’ movements of their feet.

But even though the cats’ reactions showed that they knew when they were being called, and recognised their owner’s voices, none of it was enough to actually make them move. Unlike dogs, cats have no interest in being told what to do.

“These results indicate that cats do not actively respond with communicative behaviour to owners who are calling them from out of sight, even though they can distinguish their owners’ voices,” write Saito and Shinozuka in scientific journal Animal Cognition. “This cat–owner relationship is in contrast to that with dogs.”

Dogs are thought to have been domesticated somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. The most likely scenario is that scavenging packs of wolves trailed nomadic hunter gatherers around the steppes of northern Eurasia feeding off hunting scraps and somewhere along the line a fe wold cubs were adopted by humans.

By contrast, cats’ domestication occurred much more recently, with wildcats of the species Felis silvestris effectively “domesticating themselves” after humans began to settle into permanent agricultural communities and rats and mice started hang around their farms and grain stores.

“Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humans’ orders,” says the researchers. “Rather, they seem to take the initiative in human–cat interaction.”

While dogs needed to learn to cooperate with humans as part of a hunting group, cats were more or less free agents, finding prey on their own initiative and living alongside humans more or less by coincidence.

This difference is probably why, the researchers say, “dogs are perceived by their owners as being more affectionate than cats.

But, they add, “dog owners and cat owners do not differ significantly in their reported attachment level to their pets”.

That leaves one major question to be answered in future research. While we know why cats like living with humans, it’s not quite so clear why some humans like living with cats: “the behavioural aspect of cats that cause their owners to become attached to them are still undetermined,” say Saito and Shinozuka.

  • Dogs
  • Animals
  • Cats

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