If you're a cat owner, you've probably wondered at some point whether your cat recognizes you. It's hard to know whether cats, famously more aloof than dogs, really know who we are and whether they care.
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We have reassuring news: Yes, cats do recognize their owners.
Can cats recognize their owners' faces?
We think that cats rely on senses other than sight to recognize us. Unlike dogs, cats domesticated themselves, because it benefitted them to hang around agricultural sites and catch the rodents within. Dogs have evolved to recognize and read human expressions because it behooved them, and cats haven't. Cats never really needed to read human faces, so unlike dogs, they're not very good at it.
Do cats recognize human voices?
But cats are tuned into our voices. A 2013 study out of the University of Tokyo found that cats are able to distinguish their owners' voices from a strangers' voices. The cats studied generally ignored recordings of strangers calling their names, but they twitched their ears to more closely listen when they heard their owners' voices.
Can cats recognize their owners' scent?
Cats also have a keen sense of smell. It's not as good as dogs' sense of smell, but much better than ours. Like dogs, cats use their sense of smell to gather information, including information about us. They probably recognize your scent and find it comforting.
Do cats know our routines?
In addition, cats are very skilled at picking up on patterns. They're keenly aware of who feeds them (and at exactly what time). This ability probably factors in to what they perceive as "their human," in addition to scent and sound.
Cutest of all, cats remember familiar people, even after many years. Yes, this includes their owners. Aw! So don't worry: even though sometimes it may seem like your cat doesn't care about you, it's all an act. They recognize you and they care very much. Especially if it's dinnertime.