How Many Words Can A Cat Understand?

How Many Words Can A Cat Understand

Cats are intelligent and sociable creatures. They are independent but they also like to interact with their owners on their own terms. When humans talk to cats, the latter will respond through body movements or vocalizations. In this article, let us assess if the human language makes sense to cats and if they have a basic idea of what their owners are trying to say to them.

How many words can a cat understand?

Cats usually understand around 20 to 40 words. Some understand as many as 50 words according to scientific research. They can also learn and identify their names. However, it may be more appropriate to say that cats distinguish and associate words with certain things rather than understanding them. Felines can associate words with body language, tone of voice, and vocalization and connect them with playtime, rewards or treats, feeding, petting, and other actions. 

Cats do not understand or distinguish certain words better than others. They are comparable to small children since the words you most often use (including short words) are the ones that they will likely understand or recognize best.  They most likely distinguish words like “good boy” or “good girl” and may interpret that you are happy with them, although it may not be obvious that they understand being praised. 

If you often use the words “kibbles,” “treats,” and “canned food,” your cat will likely understand or identify them since they can correlate it with something tasty. She will also likely respond to the words “come,” “no,” and other commands that you use frequently.  The words that cats tend to learn are those that are used or mentioned repeatedly and appear to be important.  

Can cats understand what humans say?

Cats recognize more than understand what humans say since they lack the cognitive skills to interpret the human language. They comprehend our language in the same manner that helps us understand why they are meowing. It is also akin to how you interpret your cat’s language by reading how they swish their tails or arch their backs.  

According to the Animal Cognition website, researchers note that cats respond when their pet parents call them by their names.  The cats acknowledged their humans’ voices through ear and head movement, also referred to as orienting behavior instead of communicative behavior, like tail movement and vocalization. 

Can cats understand English?

Cats cannot understand English technically since they do not have the psychological vocal structure of humans.  However, they have the ability to understand sounds and be familiar with them. They can recognize the language and if the commands are used repeatedly along with certain actions, just as dogs do. 

Can cats understand human meows?

Your cats probably do not understand human meows. You may be saying something that has no clear meaning for your cat or the meows may not be convincing to her as they sound to you. 

Can cats recognize their names?  

Yes, studies indicate that cats can recognize their names. Cats display more pronounced reactions to their names than to similar phrases or other cats’ names. The cats respond by meowing or through ear, head, and tail movements. This was shown through research done by Japanese behavioral scientist, Atsuo Saito. 

The study also notes that the cats respond to their names when called by their owners and may link their names to a reward or punishment. 

Do cats like being talked to?

Yes, scientific studies indicate that cats like being talked to.  According to Japanese research, cats understand or recognize their owner’s voice and they pay attention when being talked to. 

Marilyn Krieger, a cat behaviorist, states that cats are more likely to respond and interact with their humans if spoken to in a calm, soft voice. This indicates that the tone and volume of your voice are important when communicating with cats. Cats may feel threatened or protected; this will depend on the tone and loudness of your voice. 

Some cat owners attest that their cats respond to them by meowing and purring when talked to. Cat experts believe that felines like being talked to as long as you are not interrupting their sleeping or eating. They also observe that cats gather a lot of information by listening to the tone of a human voice, observing facial expressions, and paying attention to body language. 

Dr. Uri Burstyn, a veterinarian from Vancouver, British Columbia, states that cats tend to pay more attention if they are talked to in a high-pitched voice. He notes that this can help you name your cat. Cats tend to respond when the name ends in a high-pitched sound as it imitates the sound of their prey. 


Cats are docile and lovers of power naps but they are smart and curious, too. They respond to their owners when talked to and can associate or distinguish anywhere from 20 to 50 words, according to scientific research. They associate words with the tone of voice, body language, and vocalizations connecting it with playtime, treats, and feeding. They can also recognize their names when called by their owners. 

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