Can cats learn words?

Megan Walendzinski on asks: Can cats learn words? This is an interesting question and I’ll try and answer it in this short post.

Do cats understand words?
Do cats understand words? They understand the sound of certain words. Montage by PoC. Individual images in the public domain.
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There is no doubt that domestic cat cannot learn the spoken or written words of, let’s say, the English language. They can’t read English. But domestic cats can learn the sound of the words of the English language or, indeed, any other language native to the country in which they reside.

Cats can learn their name by its sound. Cats can acquire a rudimentary vocabulary but only through sounds which they usually equate with reward. The classic example is calling your cat’s name at breakfast or dinner or whenever. He understands that the sound you make, which is the sound of his name, means that food is to be served and he comes in great eagerness an expectation.

The domestic cat might even learn a sentence through the sound it makes. This is because he or she will equate the connected sounds with a consequence as a result of informal training. You don’t need to train your cat using a clicker. Over time your cat trains you and vice versa

For example, the phrase: ‘Come on’ will have a certain ring to it which your cat recognises. It is two words but together they make a sound and your cat will understand the meaning of those words through the sound.

I won’t go on. It’s not a question of understanding language by being able to read that language or interpret the spoken word, it’s a question of recognising the sound of words and what they mean through the consequences that follow.

Therefore, in a limited way, cats can learn words. These are my personal views and of course I am open to any suggestions including those which argue against my thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Can cats learn words?”

  1. All of my cats, dogs too, have learned their names but not through association with food. I hold them as babies and repeat their names. When they look at me, I love on them. As they get older, they do associate other words with my actions.

    My male learned that “heel” means to come to me because of the dogs. If he knows I’m going outside, he will come and rub my legs when I say “Rex, heel.” Other times, he comes within eye sight to see why I’m calling. 🤣

    When my husband comes home, they have a lenghty chat if Rex is sitting on the washer near the back door. And then my husband asks him if he wants a treat. If he does, he will jump down, go into the kitchen and sit in his treat spot.

    Cats are super smart and love to play us. They learn a lot of our language if we spend time with them. And then use it against us. LOL!

  2. Now who would argue with you? Well, one person but that’s certainly not me. This is a favorite topic of mine and I also think it’s pretty straight forward as you opined. I do think they do have a curiosity about the sounds we make, though they have a limited ability to do anything about them other than react in ways they want to or they think we want them to. I also have one cat who does react with great interest in the slightest sound I make directly to her. We have little make-believe conversations using just a faint “meh” sound back and forth, best from across the room, our eyes glued on each other. I think most of them have an interest in interacting with us vocally, which is something. It’s not communication either of us can do much of anything with (yet) but it’s more than just a reaction to stimuli, which is what we do all the time but we don’t take points off our net worth because of it.


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