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Bringing a new cat into your home always comes with questions and challenges, especially when it comes to behavior. For many, that means never knowing if your cat doesn’t know what you’re telling him or if he’s just selectively deaf. It can even be difficult to tell if your cat knows their new name, especially if your new pet isn’t quite in love 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 its name on an exact timeline. Kittens and young cats tend to learn their names faster than adult cats and can learn in as little as a week. Older cats, especially senior cats and rescued cats, will take longer. They should learn their name within a month, especially if you actively teach them.
Your cat knowing its name is important for anything you want to teach it. It even helps you bond, so it’s important to know when your cat knows its name. However, there are a few tricks to getting your cat to respond to its name. From learning to know if your cat knows its name, to getting your cat to cooperate when you call.
How to tell if your cat knows its name
Teaching your cat its name won’t tell you when it learns it. Before you start training, it helps 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 quite willful. If they won’t come when you call, they won’t. But you can encourage your feline friend to be more responsive by giving him plenty of treats and scratching his favorite itch when it comes.
Another way to test is to say his name in a mix of other random words. It’s best if you can say these words in the same tone of voice you use for your cat’s name. This is a good test for solitary cats that don’t require much attention.
A cat that knows its name will straighten up in the same tone of voice, but care less and look more annoyed the further you go. When you say their name, look for them to straighten up. Their ears will swivel towards you, they might stare at you, and they might even come closer.
Some cats will also meow or vocalize when you say their name. This kind of response is less common, but it’s a sure sign that your cat is paying attention.
Even if your cat doesn’t fully recognize you, changes in their body language can also show that they’ve heard and understood you. A tail that starts flashing faster is usually a sign that they’ve heard you, but don’t want to listen yet.
How to teach your cat its name
Many cats will learn their name, organically. After all, it’s probably the word you’ll use the most when talking to them.
Cats may not seem as responsive as dogs because they are more independent, but they are very aware of you. Your cat can also learn to associate a certain tone of voice with its name. If you use a song when talking to your cat, she may also respond to that voice, not just her name.
If you want your cat to learn its name earlier or want to make sure it knows 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 he won’t answer everything. Plus, you probably don’t want to use that long name all the time.
Instead, stick with something shorter, Pom or Whiskers. Short names will help your cat identify when you talk to them vs. when you speak right.
Also try to keep their name unique. 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 its name because it happens to share it with your favorite snack.
Use it often – but not angry
Especially when you first get your cat, you often have to use its new name. This is even more important with older cats and rescues. Some cats may resist the name change. Others will need a new name because they have bad associations with the old one.
It’s important to set the right tone when using your cat’s name. Coo after him, say it when you play with him, pet him or praise him, but avoid using his name when yelling at him. Even if it means changing their name slightly or giving them a “middle name” when they are having trouble.
This does two things, and it helps your cat learn that the name refers to them. It also helps avoid creating a negative association with their name, which may lead them to refuse to answer it later.
Treats are your friend – and their motivation
Treats and food are your best friends when you have a new cat. Try to find treats they like early on, then use them to teach your cat their name.
For this to work, you will need to reduce the amount of food you give them at mealtimes. very slightly. You want your cat to be hungry enough to be motivated by food, but not so hungry that it irritates or angers it. They should want a snack, but not a full meal.
Never cut back on your cat’s food without giving them treats or food to compensate later.
Then grab a handful of treats or food. You can also use a combination. Begin by saying your cat’s name as you give it a treat. Next, start asking your cat to take a few steps towards you when you say its name.
Name learning should only take place when your cat is in a good mood. A tail sticking up in the air or forming a question mark is a good sign. Purring, blinking slowly, or rubbing up against you are all indicators that your cat is relaxed, trusts you, and may even need some attention.
Training should only last until your cat begins to lose interest. If he begins to groom himself, wander away from you, or fall asleep, you should stop training. This way your cat will only have 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 will learn on their own timeline. Give your cat time to learn its name and anything else you want to teach it.
If you can’t get your cat to listen, or if he doesn’t seem to be learning well, you may want to take him to the vet. Your cat may be deaf, have hearing problems, or have another underlying issue that prevents her from learning her name.
Don’t worry if this turns out to be true. Your veterinarian can recommend other ways to get your cat’s attention and train it.
If you let your cat learn at their own pace, whether it takes a few days or a few months, they will thank you in the end. Cats don’t like to be rushed or pressured into doing anything. They respond best to positive training techniques and rewards, not frustration and punishment.
Race matters too. The more affectionate your cat’s breed, the more likely it is to learn its name quickly and respond often. More solitary and aloof breeds may learn just as quickly, but be slower to respond.
Unlike dogs, your feline companion may be reluctant to show they know their name. Basic commands and tricks take your feline longer to teach, not because they can’t learn, but because they are more independent than dogs. It’s about learning to work with your cat because they don’t have as much of a natural urge to please.
Ultimately, teaching your cat its name comes down to deepening the bond between you. You can let things happen organically or you can use these tips to speed things up. Whatever you choose, make sure you and your cat enjoy the learning process.