Do Cats Recognize Faces?

Ever wondered whether your cat recognizes your face, or other familiar human faces?

Cats are weird. That much we know. In many areas, it's difficult to tell what they can and can't perceive, and this is one of those areas. Cats do recognize their owners. But whether they're recognizing our faces is another story.

Human faces all look the same to cats.

Cats generally have better vision than dogs do, but they're not as tuned into human faces as their canine counterparts. This is probably due at least in part to the fact that they domesticated themselves and have never had an evolutionary need to read human faces. That isn't to say that cats can't read facial expressions at all because they can, and they seem to be affected by human moods to some degree. But they aren't as obsessively tuned into our faces as dogs are.

A study by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas at Dallas found that human faces probably all look very similar to cats. When the cats in the studies were shown photographs of human faces, they could tell their owners apart only about 54 percent of the time. However, the cats successfully recognized photographs of other cats about 91 percent of the time.

Young woman playing with cat in home
credit: Ulza/iStock/GettyImages

Can cats recognize their owners?

Instead of their vision, cats rely more on their other senses, like smell and hearing, to recognize their owners (and other familiar people). Cats' sense of smell isn't as great as dogs' is, but it's a lot better than ours, and they rely heavily on it to gather information. You have a unique scent to your cat, and they use that as part of the way they recognize you.

Cats also recognize our voices and our behavior patterns (especially when those patterns benefit them). For instance, you've probably noticed that your cat is extremely aware of who feeds her every night, and at exactly what time.

Conclusion

Cats may not recognize our faces, but they definitely recognize us, and despite their sometimes surly demeanor, they're excited to see us when we get home.