The relationship between a human and a cat is a special and unique one. Compared to other domesticated animals, cats don’t think of their humans as their owners or even their superiors, they do not even recognize their owners by sight! This unfortunately has led to a somewhat misunderstood reputation as a pretty aloof species.
Can cats actually recognize their owners by sight ?
Its is a known fact that cats do not recognize their owners by simply looking at them, the human resting face, no matter whose it is, looks all the same to a cat. However, cats can recognize and differentiate humans by their smell and their sound. So, regardless of what kind of perfume or cologne the person is wearing, their skin has a unique scent to a cat.
The entire stigma around cats is that it is thought that just because they can’t recognize their owners by sight, they automatically do not care for them. This is absolutely incorrect as cats are completely capable of forming deep connections with their human companions. It’s just that their recognition and understanding is just different from our own. Only by understanding this fact can we help to strengthen our bond with cats.
Why are cats not good at recognizing human faces
Let’s start with the opposite question, if you were asked to describe a cat, any cat, without mentioning their fur color or size, you would struggle. To our eyes, all cats have the same identical poker face. This can be said in reverse as well. Our feline friends need more than just their sight to distinguish between different humans.
Picture this, you have been asked to describe another person’s face. You will most probably think and then state the following characteristics: hair color, eye color, skin tone and some more distinguishing features. But consider this through a cat’s eyes. All felines have just three vision cones in their retina, which makes deciphering certain colors less effective than through the human eyes. All of this makes telling us apart simply by colors impossible for a cat.
Felines are naturally long sighted; this comes from an evolution of hunting and survival instincts. Wild cats can survey the terrain from a far away viewing spot, then decide whether or not it would be safe and beneficial to enter it. This means that from up close, a cat’s vision is blurry.
The blurry vision makes it impossible for cats to distinguish their humans by their prominent facial or even bodily features, even facial hair doesn’t register in a cat’s vision. Instead of seeing, it will try to rub itself to learn to recognize the texture.
An additional thing to think about is the size difference between cats and humans. Since we are typically at the same eye level as other humans, we can remember and tell apart their faces with somewhat ease. However, a cat will rarely ever get close enough to a human’s face for as long as it needs to remember it.
All of this makes the human face a blurry mass of different unrecognizable features to a feline. The only thing they can clearly see is a tall and shadowy shape with two arms and two legs. To combat its poor sight up close, cats have additional heightened senses.
Can cats recognize their owners’ voice ?
Cats can clearly recognize their owners simply by their voice. There was a test made where three vocal tracks were played to a cat, one of them belonging to its owner and the other two were strangers. A whopping 75% of cats responded to their owner’s voice tracks and simply ignored the other two.
As with everything, there is a limit to this. A cat does have enhanced hearing, but not to the point where it can recognize its owners voice in a thick crowd. Volume also plays a part in this, so if you frequently address your cat in a gentle tone, then your yelling may go unrecognized.
This can also originate from early experiences, since kittens respond to their mother’s voice. The mother cat uses a unique meow or a chirp to gain her kittens’ attention, whether to warn them of danger or to announce a feeding time.
When a cat grows up and ultimately leaves its mother, the human owner takes over that role as your cat’s primary caregiver. In doing so, the cat expects you to provide it with food and shelter and to keep it safe from any harm that may come its way. All of this means that a cat will respond to their owner’s voice much in the same way as it will to its mother’s voice.
Cats can recognize their owners’ scent
Another crucial part in feline recognition is scent. Felines have up to 80 million scent receptors in their nose, that is 20 times more than what a human has. A cat’s scent is a key part to its daily life and understanding, according to Applied Animal Behavior Science.
All humans have specific distinguishable scents to cats, almost akin to fingerprint. Humans can recognize each other by means of artificial scents such as shampoos or perfumes, while a feline’s enhanced smell cuts through all of this and goes straight for the natural scent of our skin.
However, if you change a specific scent that you wear, your cat will notice it, piquing its interest. It may even stare at you with a certain curiosity with its mouth open and upper lip curled, don’t get this confused with a look of disgust. This is called the flehmen response.
There is an organ called the vomeronasal organ, also know as Jacobson’s organ, that is found in the roof of a cat’s mouth, and the expression that was just described provides access to this organ. Felines will use the flehmen response when they encounter a new smell, taking in the scent in full and committing it to memory.
Felines will remember things that are important to them, and as a result to that they will definitely commit a new smell associated with their owner to memory. In doing so they will be able to detect this aroma, and you, from a distance and know exactly where you are.
You might be interested : How to train your cat to behave ?