Cats are known for their intelligence, but do they understand human language? If you ask them to fetch something or come back, will they obey?
Cats are highly social animals. They communicate through body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations. And they also respond to commands given by humans.
While some believe that cats don’t understand human speech, recent studies show otherwise. Cats seem to understand at least 50% of spoken English.
We look at this in closer detail to work out really what this means and how much of what we are speaking to our cat do they understand. Let’s jump in.
Do Cats Understand Words?
The idea that cats can’t understand words is a common misconception. It comes from the fact that many people think of cats as being aloof, independent creatures who don’t care about other people. But it turns out that cats have an incredible ability to read human emotions.
In one study, researchers showed videos of different emotional situations to domestic cats and then played recordings of their owners’ voices while monitoring their brain activity.
The results were surprising: when the owner said “come here,” the feline brain lit up like a Christmas tree.
This shows that even though cats may not be able to speak, they understand words. This doesn’t mean that they always obey, but it does show that they’re capable of understanding what we say.
So how good are they at actually obeying us? Well, if you ask your cat to get down, she’ll probably just sit there. But if you tell her “get down!” with a bit more urgency, she might start moving towards you.
So what happens if you give your cat a command that’s too vague? In another experiment, scientists played recordings of two different types of commands – ones where the word was repeated several times and others where it wasn’t. When they gave the order “go” to a cat, the first type of command worked better than the second.
But why would that be? One possible explanation is that repeating the same word helps the cat learn what the command is. Another possibility is that repetition makes the command easier for the cat to remember.
So maybe it’s not so much that cats don’t understand words, as that they need specific instructions to help them remember what they’re supposed to do.
How Much Do They Understand?
Now let’s take a step back and consider the question of whether cats understand all of the words that we use.
There are around 6,000 distinct sounds in the English language, and most of those are used in everyday conversation. That’s a lot of information!
To find out how well cats understand these sounds, researchers tested their hearing abilities using ultrasound. Cats are very sensitive to sound waves below 20 kHz, which is above the range of normal human hearing.
So they set up a system where they could play high-frequency ultrasonic tones to cats and record the reaction.
They found that cats could hear frequencies between 25 kHz and 40 kHz. That’s enough to distinguish between the vowels in the words “cat” and “hat” (which are pronounced differently), or between the consonants in “cough” and “cut” (pronounced similarly).
So that means that cats can hear at least half of the sounds that make up our speech. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand every single word that we say.
For example, they still couldn’t distinguish between vowel sounds in certain words. And they didn’t seem to notice much difference between the words “meow” and “moo”.
What About Dogs?
Can dogs understand words? Unlike cats, dogs have been bred for thousands of years to work closely with humans. So it’s reasonable to assume that they’ve learned some tricks from us.
Research has shown that dogs can understand over 100 words, including names, food commands, and body signals. Dogs also appear to understand the meaning behind some words.
However, unlike cats, dogs aren’t able to recognize individual words. If you show a dog a picture of a particular person, he won’t know who it is unless you point him to that person by saying his name.
Dogs are trained differently from cats, and therefore it’s understandable that they communicate differently.
Does This Mean That All Animals Understand Us?
The way that we communicate with animals isn’t just limited to verbal communication. We also use visual cues, such as pointing and gesturing. But does this mean that animals understand what we’re trying to tell them?
Researchers have tried to answer this question by testing the ability of different species to interpret gestures. Some studies have shown that chimpanzees can understand simple gestures, such as pointing towards something.
Other studies have suggested that dolphins and elephants can understand more complex gestures, such as pointing to indicate a location on the ground.
But there’s still no evidence that animals understand the full meaning behind gestures. One study even suggested that gorillas might not be able to understand pointing because they only use gestures to communicate within their group.
How Do They Communicate With Each Other?
If you think about your cat communicating with you, it probably involves lots of head nods, meows, purrs, and tail wags. These types of behaviors are known as affiliative behaviors.
Affiliative behaviors are usually used to express pleasure or excitement. They can also be used to ask questions, such as “Are you hungry?” or “Where did I put my toys?”
If you have pets and you look around your house, you’ll see that most pets spend much of their time interacting with each other. Many pet owners report that their pets feel lonely if they’re left alone for long periods.
But how do these animals communicate with one another? Scientists have studied this topic using two techniques: playbacks and video recording. Playback experiments involve playing back recordings of animal vocalizations while observing the response of the subject.
Video recording experiments involve watching an animal interact with its environment and then analyzing the footage to determine whether the animal was aware of what was happening.
Playbacks have revealed that domestic cats understand the meaning behind human-like vocalizations. For example, researchers played back recordings of cat meows and found that cats could distinguish between sounds made by different people or animals.
When presented with a playback of a familiar owner, cats responded differently than when they heard a stranger meow.
Video recording experiments have shown that dogs respond similarly to human-made noises. Dogs seem to understand that certain sounds are associated with specific actions.
For example, when scientists recorded barking and growling, they discovered that dogs were more likely to bark in response to a food treat than to a toy.
What Does This Tell Us About Animal Intelligence?
The results from both types of research suggest that some animals may be capable of understanding the meanings of words.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that all animals possess language skills. It simply means that they can recognize the difference between sounds that humans make.
For example, dogs don’t understand the meaning behind the word “sit”. But they can recognize the sound of someone saying the word.
Similarly, cats don’t understand the meaning of the word “meow,” but they can recognize the sound.
We hope after reading this article, you understand a little more about animal communication and, most importantly, if cats can understand words.
More than understanding every word we say, It’s important to remember as they listen to us talk, cats and other pets start to associate certain sounds with certain actions.
This is what forms a great bond. Although they don’t understand every single word, don’t be afraid to sit and talk to your cat too. We promise they still make great therapists and are every owner’s best friend!
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