Can My Cats Understand Me?

I have always been an animal lover, and I will approach any dog or cat on the street as if it were my own (which doesn’t turn out to always be the best idea). My family has adopted their fair share of cats throughout the time that I have been around, adding up to around six. Ever since I can remember, I have held one-sided conversations with my cats, and kind of always assumed that they were listening without even considering the fact that they didn’t understand me.


Recently I came upon a video by New Scientist while progressing through my daily scrolls of social media that reopened my case of whether or not my cats can understand what I say. The video explains that recent MRI scans are showing that dogs have the ability to learn and interpret language. Dogs, just like humans, process the meaning of words with the left hemisphere of their brains, and the tone of the words with the right hemisphere. Additionally, the scans prove that dogs understand more than just the upbeat inflection of a person’s voice. In order to stimulate the reward center in their brain, both the actual word and the sound of your voice paired with the word need to be positive (New Scientist). I looked further into dogs’ communication skills and found that a majority of dogs have the ability to comprehend 165 words, potentially more if the dogs are trained. There is even an exceptionally trained dog who learned 200 words, proving the strong correlation between training and a dog’s ability to understand language (Animal Planet). I figured that if dogs are as advanced as some toddlers, my cats must be able to understand what I say on some level.

I ventured out to see if anyone else had felt a similar connection with their cats. I found an article by a Wildlife Rehabilitation and Cat Physiology and Behavior Specialist who advocated cats’ skills in responding to sound as oppose to the actual words being spoken. Unlike dogs, if a meaningless word or negative word is exclaimed to a cat, they will react as if I had said “come get your food” in the same manner.

So why are dogs more advanced in language than cats? Scientists performed the Strange Situation Classification (SSC) on a group of dogs to understand their attachment to their owners (BTG Studios). The SSC is a study that was performed in 1969 by Mary Ainsworth to examine the attachment levels of children (Simply Psychology). The original study can be found here, but in summary of the article, children ages twelve to eighteen months were observed in contact with their mother, in contact with their mother and a stranger, in contact with the stranger alone, alone, in contact with the stranger again, and in contact with the mother again. Most children had a secure attachment to their mothers, meaning they felt the safe when their mothers were present and unsafe when they were not. When the SSC test was performed on dogs, the results were extremely similar as to when it was performed on humans, however the test was a failure when attempted on cats (BTG Studios). Historically speaking, cats are known to be independent, whereas dogs have a tendency to form a strong companionship with humans due to their nature to live with a pack (BTG Studios). One of the scientists involved in the SSC study with dogs explains that psychologically dogs’ and cats’ brains are the same, but what draws them apart is their discipline (BTG Studios). Due to their instinct of self-reliance, cats are harder to train and therefore learn language. Dogs are easier to train because they are ambitiously looking for approval from their owner (BTG Studios). As I said before, there is a correlation between dogs’ training and their understanding of language, therefore leading me to think that there is a direct cause between consistent training and their understanding.

All in all, my cats sadly cannot translate my language into their cat language, but they can detect my tone of voice and, therefore; my emotion. This makes it possible for them to snuggle with me when I am having a bad day.



New. “Brain Scans Show Dogs Understand What We Say.” YouTube. New Scientist, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Forbes, Logan. “How Well Do Cats Understand Human Language?” Quora. N.p., 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

“Can Dogs Understand What We Say?” Dog Training. Animal Planet, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Douglas, Kate. “Scientists Prove Dogs Are Better Than Cats.” Occasional Observer. BTG Studios, n.d. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

McLeod, Saul. “Mary Ainsworth.” Simply Psychology. N.p., 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

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8 thoughts on “Can My Cats Understand Me?

  1. Emma Murphy

    As a fellow cat lover I have always wondered if my cat can understand what I am saying. I talk to my cat more often than I should probably admit, so I was sad to read that unfortunately he does not understand the words I am saying. But it is still nice to know that my cat can detect my mood and I have a dog too so I can keep talking to him and he’ll understand! I read this interesting article on dogs understanding our words.

  2. Linghao Yang

    I always think my cat is the dumbest creature in this world.. Every time I try to say hi to her, she just runs away.. She has lived with me for 3 years, but she still ignores me. I really like her, but she never understands that. I am really sad about this.. Here’s a website talks about this question–just-act-aloof-form-survival.html

  3. Chelsea Greenberg

    I really like how you compared the differences between dogs and cats in their comprehension of language. I have actually seen the article about the MRIs on dog’s and I think that’s really neat! The other study you mentioned is really interesting as well. As a cat owner, I totally agree with you about the fact that they don’t understand commands, but they understand emotions. My one cat and I have a really special connection, she knows when I have a bad day and she sits with me and cuddles, and honestly she’s my best friend. Here is a neat article that explains why cats are more independent than dogs.

  4. Anna Pearl Belinda

    What nice bout of information to add onto my Tuesday evening. The entire time I was reading this I was thinking of my dog at home and couldn’t refrain from smiling because she is the sweetest. To know that she can understand and differentiate some of the things I’m saying makes me really happy, because I want her to know how much I love her. I’ve seen people get really heated over whether it’s better to be a cat or a dog person, so it was nice to see a calm and collected balance in your blog when you were comparing dogs and cats. I like how cats are independent- it fits them. It makes me think about the Egyptians and how they worshipped cats- I want to learn more about that. I hope they continue doing research on how much a dog can understand because I think the more we know of what they know then the happier we can make them! Our pets make us happy, and that makes me think about how today in class with Andrew’s example of chocolate and the nobel prize, people were saying that chocolate makes people happy–>happy people are smarter—> boom nobel prize winner. Well maybe it didn’t go exactly like that…but still, good to know that my dog can tell when I care.

  5. Ashton Blair Pinter

    In high school I was never really much of a coffee drinker. I usually just stuck to water because that was all my parents ever had at my house. Since coming to college and having classes at all hours of the day and a mammoth amount of work and studying to do, I have been turned on to coffee! For my 9 A.M. class I usually like to have an iced caramel macchiato. Slowly but surely I am becoming obsessed with coffee. From your blog I found out that coffee helps you lose weight, burn fat, and helps you stay alert and focused. I definitely like the sound of that. Personally I noticed I break out a little when I drink coffee, heres an article about acne and coffee!

  6. Emma G Schadler

    Hey, Anna! Your post caught my eye because I just posted my own blog about how dogs are important to human society. As a pet owner of both dogs and a cat, I can concur that while my dogs might understand when I tell them it’s time to eat, my cat will ignore me until she decides she’s hungry. I have to say, as a dog person myself, I focused more on your evaluation of the recent study done on dogs than the information on cats. One thing that stood out to me was when you explained that the average number of words a dog can learn is around 165. It seems like such a small amount in comparison to our own depth of language learning, but for an animal that can only respond to us through barks and body language it is amazingly impressive! It also reminded of a video my dad showed me about the “world’s smartest dog,” a border collie named Chaser, who understands 1,022 words. I look forward to further research into dogs’ comprehension of the English language and understanding humans in general.

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