Skip to main content

Study results: Cats pay attention when you use a high-pitch voice

Do you wonder if your cat listens to you? Try speaking in a higher pitch

Although some breeds are more adept at learning new skills than others, dogs are well-known for their ability to learn and respond to commands. Cats, on the other hand… well, almost every cat person has a funny story or two about the times their fur baby makes direct eye contact while swatting a glass off the coffee table. And this is all while her frustrated cat mama yells, “No, Miss Mittens! No!” All it takes is a quick internet search for “cats hearing” to discover that her ears probably work just fine. In fact, cats can hear sounds as high as 64,000 Hz, which is three times higher than our 12,000-15,000 Hz hearing range. But do cats listen to us? Do cats recognize their owner when they speak? Let’s find out.

A calico cat nuzzling against a denim-clad leg
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Is your cat ignoring you?

According to a recent study published in Animal Cognition, the answer is: Maybe not. French researcher Charlotte de Mouzon says, “We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owner speaking normally to another human adult.” In other words, using what’s colloquially known as baby talk is more likely to yield results if you want your cat to pay attention to you. (Scientists use a less cutesy term: cat-directed speech.)

How did researchers stumble onto this fascinating discovery? Not without difficulty. While most dogs respond well to observation, cats tend to become so anxious it dampens their reactions. In fact, researchers were so concerned the cats may not respond normally at all. Thankfully, the frisky felines participating did react, although not necessarily in the way researchers initially expected. Dr. de Mouzon goes on to elaborate: “Their reactions were very subtle. It could be just moving an ear or turning the head towards the speaker, or even freezing what they were doing.”

Does cat-directed speech work for everyone?

The study included a small group of test subjects consisting of 16 cats whose ages ranged from 8 months to 2 years old. But they weren’t just ordinary cats; the subjects belonged to National Veterinary School students from Alfort, France, says Christa Lesté-Lasserre of New Scientist. Interestingly, researchers discovered that cats respond well to cat-directed speech, AKA “baby talk,” but only when their owners speak to them. When strangers addressed the cats using cat-directed speech, the cats entirely ignored the speakers.

While de Mouzon postulates that the lack of response may be because the cats were all kept exclusively indoors and didn’t associate with strangers, she ultimately says the study proves that cats are “sensitive and communicative,” which is something pet parents already know in their hearts.

A cat's paw draped over its owner's arm

Final takeaway

The next time your cat appears to be ignoring you, remember that she’s most likely listening to every word you say — she just may not be interested in what you’re telling her. Try speaking in a higher pitch, using short words with elongated vowels, and offering your fur baby a treat. Chances are, she knows exactly what that word means.

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
Video: We’ve seen some weird cat sleeping spots, but this feline’s is the strangest
Ever wondered why cats sleep in strange positions? We have the answer
Cat curled up in a ball while sleeping in grass

Cats sleep in the weirdest positions — this fundamental fact of feline life takes over the internet on a regular basis. We've seen kitties in boxes, baby bouncers, and sinks, but we may have found the new best cat-napping spot. Ever spotted a cat sleeping inside a pot? You're in for a treat with this viral video.

sephera._ posted this hilarious recounting titled "Orange cat behavior," and it went well beyond the hilarity of the usual antics we see from mousers. It opens with an orange kitty sitting in a pot on a counter in the kitchen. But that's just the beginning. We get to see him try out just about every cat sleeping position while staying inside his snug hidey hole. The text says, "When your cat's favorite spot is inside a pot," and takes us through the favored resting contortions, including curled up with his head poking out, squished all the way in, and with head in and butt up. It doesn't look particularly comfy to us, but we don't have this cat's flexibility.

Read more
Why is my cat peeing on my bed? The real truth (and how to stop this gross habit)
Causes and solutions for when your cat pees where you sleep
Striped cat sitting on a bed in the bedroom

No one likes to ask, "Why is my cat peeing on my bed?" but here we are. It can be so frustrating! Noticing that your cat peed on your fresh-out-of-the-washing-machine sheets is one of the most irritating things that can happen. There are a lot of different reasons besides your cat just being a jerk that explain why she would do such a thing. Understanding the "why" will help you figure out what is really going on inside of your furry feline’s head, so you can then determine how to stop this unwanted behavior.

While many believe the primary reason cats pee on the bed is because they're just being sassy, this is usually not the case. Read on to learn why your cat has picked up this undesirable habit and what you can do to put an end to it.

Read more
Does your cat sleep with you? You should be thrilled
Here's why your cat chooses your side as their favorite resting spot
Gray cat lying on a white comforter at the foot of a bed

There's something about getting into bed at night and having your pet join you that can't be matched. When your cat comes and curls up against you, it feels cozy and comforting. Even so, you can't help but wonder: why does your cat sleep with you? Is he doing it out of affection or just because it's comfortable?

The answer may be a mix. If your cat sleeps with you, chances are a few things prompt him to seek you out, but don't worry. Most of the reasons are pretty flattering. The more you know about your cat's sleep behavior, the better you'll be able to guess why he's chosen you to be his nap buddy. And if you like co-sleeping, you can do your best to keep the habit going strong!

Read more