Bringing a new cat into your home always comes with some questions and challenges, especially when it comes to behavior. For many, that means never knowing whether your cat doesn’t know what you’re telling it, or whether it’s just selectively deaf. It can even be difficult to know if your cat knows it’s new name, especially if your new pet isn’t being very lovey yet.
So, how long does it take for a cat to learn its name? Every cat is a little different, so you shouldn’t expect your cat to know their name on an exact timeline. Kittens and younger cats tend to learn their name faster than adult cats and can learn in as little as a week. Older cats, particularly senior cats and rescued cats, will take longer. They should learn their name within a month, especially if you actively teach it to them.
Your cat knowing its name is important for everything else you want to teach it. It even helps you bond, so it’s important to know when your cat knows their name. There are some tricks to getting your cat to respond to their name, however. From learning how to tell if your cat knows their name, to get your cat to cooperate when you call.
How To Tell When Your Cat Knows Their Name
Teaching your cat their name won’t tell you when they’ve learned it. Before you start training, it’s helpful to know what to look for.
One way to tell is if your cat comes when you call. If they come better than 50% of the time, chances are they know their name.
Why 50%? Well, cats can be pretty willful. If they don’t want to come when you call, they won’t. But you can encourage your feline friend to be more responsive by giving them plenty of treats and scratching their favorite itches when they come.
Another way to test is to say their name in a mix of other random words. It’s best if you can say these words with the same tone of voice you use for your cat’s name. This is a good test for solitary cats that don’t ask for a lot of attention.
A cat that knows its name will perk up to the same tone of voice, but care less and look more bored as you continue. When you say their name, look for them to perk back up. Their ears will swivel toward you, they might look at you, and they might even come closer.
Some cats will also meow or vocalize when you say their name. That kind of response is less common, but it’s a sure sign that your cat is paying attention.
Even if your cat doesn’t completely acknowledge you, changes in their body language can also show that they heard you and understood. A tail that starts flicking faster is usually a sign that they heard you, but don’t want to listen right now.
How To Teach Your Cat Their Name
Many cats will learn their name, organically. After all, it’s probably the word you’ll use most when you talk to them.
Cats might not seem like they are as responsive as dogs, since they are more independent, but they are very aware of you. Your cat may also learn to associate a certain tone of voice with their name. If you use a sing-song when talking to your cat, they may also respond to that voice, not just their name.
If you want your cat to learn their name sooner, or want to make sure they know the specific word, there are a few tricks.
Keep It Simple
Cats are more likely to respond if they have a short name. Your cat’s full name may be Sir Pompous Whiskers III, but you can bet they won’t respond to all of it. Plus, you probably won’t want to use that long name all the time.
Instead, stick to something shorter, Pom, or Whiskers. Short names will help your cat identify when you’re talking to them vs. when you’re just talking.
Try to keep their name unique as well. You don’t want your cat to come running because you asked a friend for an apple. Worse, you don’t want Apple to ignore his name because he happens to share it with your favorite snack.
Use It Often – But Not In Anger
Especially when you first get your cat, you should use their new name often. This is even more important with older cats and rescues. Some cats may resist having their names changed. Others will need a new name because they have bad associations with the old one.
It’s important to set the right tone when you use your cat’s name. Coo at them, say it when you’re playing with them, petting them, or praising them, but avoid using their name when you yell at them. Even if that means you modify their name slightly or give them a ‘middle’ name for when they’re in trouble.
This does two things, and it helps your cat learn that that name means them. It also helps avoid creating a negative association with their name, which can make them refuse to respond to it later.
Treats Are Your Friend – And Their Motivation
Treats and food are your best friend when you have a new cat. Try to find treats they like early, and then use them for teaching your cat their name.
For this to work, you’ll need to reduce how much you feed them at mealtimes very slightly. You want your cat to be hungry enough to be food-motivated, but not so hungry that they are irritated or angry. They should want a snack, but not need a full meal.
Never reduce your cat’s food without providing treats or food to make up for it later.
Then, grab a handful of treats or food. You can also use a combination. Start by saying your cat’s name as you give them a treat. Then, start asking your cat to move a few steps to you when you say their name.
Name training should only happen when your cat is in a good mood. A tail that sticks straight up in the air or forms a question mark is a good sign. Purring, slow blinking, or rubbing up against you are all indicators that your cat is relaxed, trusts you, and may even want attention.
Training should only last until your cat begins to lose interest. If they start grooming, walking away from you, or start to fall asleep, you should stop training. That way, your cat only has a positive association with their name, not the irritation of being bothered when they don’t want to be.
Every cat is different, and they’ll learn on their own timeline. Give your cat some time to learn their name and everything else you want to teach them.
If you can’t seem to get your cat to listen, or they don’t seem to be learning well, you might want to take them to the vet. Your cat might be deaf, having hearing issues, or some other underlying problem that prevents them from learning their name.
Don’t worry if that turns out to be true. Your vet will be able to recommend other ways of getting your cat’s attention and training them.
If you let your cat learn at their own pace, whether it takes a couple of days or a couple of months, they’ll thank you for it in the end. Cats don’t like being rushed or pushed to do anything. They respond best to positive training techniques and rewards, not frustration and punishment.
The breed also matters. The more affectionate your cat’s breed, the more likely they are to learn their name quickly and respond often. Breeds that are more solitary and aloof might learn just as quickly, but be slower to respond.
Unlike dogs, your feline companion might be reluctant to show that they know their name. Basic commands and tricks take longer to teach your feline, not because they can’t learn, but because they are more independent than dogs. It’s all about learning to work with your cat since they don’t have as much of a natural urge to please.
At the end of the day, teaching your cat their name is all about deepening the bond between you. You can let it happen organically, or you can use these tips to help speed things along. Whatever you choose, make sure you and your cat both enjoy the learning process.