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Do You Talk to Your Cat Like a Baby? (Pssst. It Knows You Do)

A new study finds kitties know when their human buddies are talking to them.

Cat at attention with big wide eyes
One of the cats included in the study reacts to a human voice.
Charlotte de Mouzon

If your cat tends to ignore you and you tell yourself it's because kitty doesn't know when she's being spoken to, I've got some bad news. She just might not be all that into you. 

New research out of France shows your cat does likely know when you're talking to her. It finds that kitties react differently when their human companions talk directly to them than when they hear strangers' voices, or even the voice of their owner addressing another person.

Charlotte de Mouzon, a researcher in animal behavior and cognition at Université Paris Nanterre, led a team that worked with 16 cats to see how they responded to prerecorded snippets of both their companions and strangers talking both "cat-directed tones" and more human-to-human conversational tones. 

The cats appeared to distinguish between their owners talking in the catty tones and regular people chatter. They also didn't seem to react to strangers in a significant way, whether or not they talked in different tones than those directed toward fellow humans.  

The study is published this week in the journal Animal Cognition, and while it bases its findings on a small sample, it adds to a pile of evidence that cats, which can seem aloof, can identify and bond with their owners. 

There is reason to take heart, though, if your kitty is standoffish. The authors acknowledge the study sample size may not be large enough to represent all cats. 

Also, the study is built upon previous research investigating animal reactions to the different tone many people take when talking to animals and infants or anything else we don't exactly expect to respond in the same language. 

That could mean that if you talk to your cat in the exact same tone as you do another human, it may truly have no idea it's being addressed at all. 

But the researchers believe the study backs up recent research that debunks the perception of cats as less loyal and loving than say, dogs.

"Indeed, cats -- who were not so long ago considered as independent and ungrateful creatures -- are in fact very well capable of creating and fostering attachment bonds with humans," the paper concludes. "Our results highlight the importance of one-to-one relationships for cats."

Please share these findings with any cats in your life, and be sure to get the tone right when you do.