Can Our Cats Understand Us?
Are cats capable of understanding certain words we speak to them?
It started innocently enough, as I am sure many other cat owners experience: the early morning wake up. My partner lying in bed, still half asleep; my cat perched expectantly on his shoulders. Occasionally I have been fortunate enough to watch my cat gently take the headphone strings in his mouth (my partner will often fall asleep listening to a TV show or movie) and unceremoniously rip the headphones out and proceed to meow directly in his ear.
This morning routine is something that we have come to be very familiar with. Starting as early as 6:30 am the cat demands to be heard. It is time for breakfast. My cat will sit balanced on his shoulders until he hears the (somewhat strange to us now but) magical phrase: “okay”.
In hearing this small two-syllable word he will leap up and jump off the bed in an excited trill and begin to rush downstairs. He knows it is now time for breakfast.
More recently I had realized that it is not just the word “okay” that is he had become familiar with (as we often said this hastily in the resignation of another morning’s sleep lost). It appears my cat has also familiarized himself with another word: “dinner”.
Upon returning home from work, I was sitting on the couch one evening speaking back and forth with my partner, my cat sitting expectantly between us. Off-hand I asked, “has he got his dinner yet?”. To which my cat was the one that replied by trilling softly at the mention of the word “dinner”. This stopped me in my tracks. I again repeated “dinner?” at which I elicited another more enthusiastic reply. Well, turns out he had not received his dinner yet and was able to alert me to this fact. This prompted me to follow the cat to the kitchen and give him his supper.
So the question remains: can cats really understand certain words? I know many dogs can be trained and grow accustomed to special words for their favourite activities example being the W-A-L-K word but, can cats do the same?
This question led me down a rabbit hole of research. Certainly, cats, for all their personality probably do not give a lick what we humans have to say. However, is it not too far outside the realm of…