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Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus)

Abstract

Domestic cats have had a 10,000-year history of cohabitation with humans and seem to have the ability to communicate with humans. However, this has not been widely examined. We studied 20 domestic cats to investigate whether they could recognize their owners by using voices that called out the subjects’ names, with a habituation–dishabituation method. While the owner was out of the cat’s sight, we played three different strangers’ voices serially, followed by the owner’s voice. We recorded the cat’s reactions to the voices and categorized them into six behavioral categories. In addition, ten naive raters rated the cats’ response magnitudes. The cats responded to human voices not by communicative behavior (vocalization and tail movement), but by orienting behavior (ear movement and head movement). This tendency did not change even when they were called by their owners. Of the 20 cats, 15 demonstrated a lower response magnitude to the third voice than to the first voice. These habituated cats showed a significant rebound in response to the subsequent presentation of their owners’ voices. This result indicates that cats are able to use vocal cues alone to distinguish between humans.

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Acknowledgments

A. Saito was granted funding by Inamori Foundation for the purposes of this study. All procedures related to animal care and experimentation in our research adhered to the ‘Guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioral research and teaching’ as published by the ASAB in Animal Behaviour 71, 245–253 (2006).

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Atsuko Saito.

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Saito, A., Shinozuka, K. Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn 16, 685–690 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0620-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0620-4

Keywords

  • Domestic cat
  • Felis catus
  • Vocal recognition
  • Human–cat interaction