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How many words does a cat "understand" ?

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
Since adopting our new (new ? its 6 months already !) kitten, the family never seem to be amazed at the amount of words she "understands" !!!!

We were always of the understanding that cats were independant compared to dogs, but she seems to have a large vocabulary...

Do you think its all down to tone of voice, or do they memorise words ?
post #2 of 35
Cats are very smart! Not only does Oliver know spoken words, he knows some simple sign language... I'm sure they easily associate certain words with the actions or objects that go with it... if I say "meow mix" (yeah stinky food, but it's the only wet he'll even consider eating) or give the sign associated with his wet food, Oliver books it upstairs and on to the dresser where I feed him his wet... same with "cookie"
post #3 of 35
Cats don't understand any word. They might associate certain sound with good things or bad things, but I doubt they can actually understand its meaning. You can train the cat to come when his name is called, but that doesn't mean the cat knows that's his name, he just expect to be petted or fed.
post #4 of 35
mine all know their names... plus they also understand at least one sign [not a traditional one, a made-up one]. when i need to get up from my seat, i pat my tummy. every one of them know that means 'get off, now'. really just happened by accident, but handy!
they also seem to be able to tell time - at least, the wet food eaters do. they know when it's about time for wet food - & will follow me wherever i go if it's near the right time.
post #5 of 35
Mine also know their names, and come when called. (When they want to, of course. ) They know "time to eat" and Nadette, my lap cat, knows, "I have to get up now." Clyde understands some sign language. Just made up stuff, but it helps us communicate.
post #6 of 35
They understand what they want to understand.
post #7 of 35
My cats rarely respond to their name. However, the one thing Buster knows is "good bye" means it's dinner time! I spend many hours chatting on the phone prior to wet food meals. Buster ultimately learned when I click the off button, which makes a sound, along with saying "good bye", it's time for dinner. He only does this at night even though I talk on the phone throughout the day.
post #8 of 35
Maia is extremely perceptive! She knows "Want to go out side?", "Stay", "Come", "No", "Down", "Watch out", "Calm down", and several vocal/physical gestures that are Mai-lingual!
post #9 of 35
They know their names and know a few others words.
If I say its time for a "treaty treat" they follow for it.
If I say Bye Bye They stand back as I leave the house.
post #10 of 35
Cats are highly intelligent.

I think they learn to understand FAR more than most give them credit for, and I strongly believe that they can read pictures in human minds.

I think those that raise and/or work with ferals would agree with me, for the most part. It's more than just a word, or a tone of voice. The connection can go much deeper than that.

Or maybe it's because I'm what they call a cat whisperer, for not only do my cats understand me when I am talking to them, they also have taught me to understand THEM.
post #11 of 35
All my cats knows their names and comes when called. (when they want to, of course) They know the words "breakfast" and "suppy" meaning supper. I totally agree with "Gingersmom", they know alot more than we give them credit for!!
post #12 of 35
My cats respond to their names, and saying 'is this what you want?' means food is coming, clicking and pointing at the floor is 'get down', they also jump on the bed if I say 'bedtime' and 'scratch?' and patting the chair or bed next to me makes them come and lay down next to me.

I think it is sound and visual association but they are very intuitive.
post #13 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by yiplong View Post
Cats don't understand any word. They might associate certain sound with good things or bad things, but I doubt they can actually understand its meaning. You can train the cat to come when his name is called, but that doesn't mean the cat knows that's his name, he just expect to be petted or fed.
Actually, cats are very good at inter-species communication which is why they are good companions for race horses. I use cats' reactions to the outside dogs' barking to know if the bark means another predator animal, a human known to the dogs to not be a threat, or an unknown stranger.
Joey & JC know that "load up" means to get into their cat carriers - the vet loves it! And the first time that JC went to go into my mom's kitchen, she told him in Spanish - "You go into my clean kitchen - you go out the door to outside!" - he stopped just at the edge of the kitchen floor, looked at the front door, thought a moment, then backed up & then dashed up the stairs. My mom just laughed & laughed at the cat being "bilingual"
I've actually heard it being explained that being almost-non-verbal communicators, cats & horses are actually tuning in to our thoughts! So, if we speak our thoughts out loud, in language, we are sending a stronger thought signal & the animal picks up on that.
post #14 of 35

Cats are smarter than you think! If I told you what I have taught mine, you would not believe me, that's how I learned how smart they are. They can learn and will if they want to. Some cats are much smarter than others much like their owners.....

post #15 of 35

Oh yes they do! Some are not as smart as others or either you are not trying to teach..

post #16 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by yiplong View Post

Cats don't understand any word. They might associate certain sound with good things or bad things, but I doubt they can actually understand its meaning. You can train the cat to come when his name is called, but that doesn't mean the cat knows that's his name, he just expect to be petted or fed.


When I was in university my parents fostered an oriental cat.  At home on  break, Shadow was all underfoot while we were in the kitchen. my mom says "Shadow, go upstairs and get in your box'.  He leaves the kitchen immediately.  10 minutes later I go upstairs, and Shadow is in his box.  As said before in this thread they DO understand. Some more than others.  You are mistaking aloofness with lack of understanding.  Nobody is expecting them to be human and understand every word.

post #17 of 35

Monet understands "bedtime!".. he'd happily walk with me into the bedroom to snuggle, no matter the time.

 

the both know "hungry" and "dinner"

 

and I swear Monet knows what "Who's got a beautiful face!?" means.. he meows every time I say it. he doesn't meow for anything else (aside from dinner)!

post #18 of 35

I'm certain my first cat Skittles could read my thoughts!  I always said it was a good thing she didn't know how to talk--the tales she could have told about what was going through my head sometimes....paranoid.gif   LOL

 

The three year kitties we have now understand what they want to understand--typical teenagers.  crackup.gif

post #19 of 35

Si appears to understand and responds to ~

His name ~   He comes running.

Nom-Noms ~ He heads straight for the door his food is kept in.   

Are you Momma's Boy/Is that Momma's Good Boy? ~ He climbs onto something to climb onto my shoulder to get lovins.

Bedtime ~ Takes his regular spot on the bed.

Where's your toy?:  To me the best, because he gets flat on the bed, staring intensly at the overhead cabinets above the bed where 'da Bird is kept.  LOL

I'm working on him actually meowing Mama.  He's such a talker that any day I expect to hear it.  laughing02.gif

I do agree that tone of voice, along with repetition, seems very important to his interest/understanding of the word or phrase.

post #20 of 35

Mine know Brekkies, Supper, gooshyfood, out, in, stop, up and down and their names. Sugar also knows bring it back -for playing fetch with her mouse.

post #21 of 35

I'm not sure if I've seen cats learn actual words, but I haven't had many cats either. There is definitely communication through tone and visual signals though. Every night I wait for Jasper at the living room door, say "come on" and he (usually) follows me up the other end of the house. If he is up on a bench or somewhere he shouldn't be, he very quickly jumps off if I say "get down", "off" etc but I think that's tone and saying words sharply. I think we probably communicate in ways that I'm not even really aware of, like making room for him on my lap in response to a look or gesture from him. My favourite at the moment is when he jumps up on the table, then he beckons me over and gets all smoochy. I'm just hoping he will learn what "No, I don't want to sniff your butt" means laughing02.gif

post #22 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by my-boy-jasper View Post

I'm just hoping he will learn what "No, I don't want to sniff your butt" means laughing02.gif

 

funny!!

post #23 of 35
Cats don't use language proper--not the way humans do. They don't have any idea of grammar (for example, why "I pet you" is different from "You pet me"--the word order). They don't communicate about things that aren't immediately present or relevant ("I'm going to chase a mouse tomorrow"). However, they can draw associations between human mouth-noises and concepts or things. A cat may understand "Breakfast" or "Toy". My cat Tiny understands the command, "Come on up!" which is permission for him to get on my bed and snuggle with me, and the command "Knock it down!", which is an invitation to play a game where he knocks an object I am holding out of my hand, and the phrase, "I'm going to get you!" which is an invitation to play a chase game. He doesn't mix them up and knows what each one means.

The difference between people language and cat language is this:
--For a human word, anything can be used to stand for anything. I could call my apple a "Pilf" and if everybody understood what "Pilf" meant, it would work just as well as "Apple". Cats, on the other hand, use the same movements and postures to communicate the same things. If a cat's tail is twitching, that means the cat is tense for one reason or another. A cat can't arbitrarily decide that, instead, it will bush out its whiskers to signal tension.
--We pass words from human to human. If I explain to you that the foundation row for my crocheted blanket is made of "chain stitch", you can add that to your vocabulary and use the term "chain stitch" to explain the same concept to someone else, even if you have never done crochet yourself. It doesn't work that way for cats. They can communicate cat-to-cat, but any cat that isn't present can't get the information.
--We combine different words in different ways to connect different meanings. My cat Tiny understands "Knock it down!" and "Come on up!" but he does not understand "Come down!" even though both words are in commands he knows. He uses the phrases as single units, rather than breaking them into words.

So for a cat, a word is more of a signal than a symbol. They can learn quite a few words; I would bet the smarter ones learn fifty or so words and phrases easily. But they are not natural language-users, like humans are, so you will be giving them a vocabulary of signals, rather than true words. Some dogs have been shown to learn something like a hundred separate signals, and be able to combine them into simple commands with accuracy greater than chance, but cats are not as trainable or eager to please as dogs, so they are more likely to try to figure something out on their own than to try to figure out what the human wants of them.

Some animals do use language, to an extent: Dolphins, elephants, apes, and some birds which live in groups. In those animals we can see simplified versions of human language, including the ability to talk about language itself, to use words in new combinations, and to teach words to others. The chimpanzee Washoe and the parrot Alex are especially interesting examples, if you want to research them. It's quite fascinating.
post #24 of 35

Wonderful explanation! I am familiar with both Washoe and Alex, and you are right, they are fascinating. Yes, cats get most of the clues from our tone and volume.

post #25 of 35

Well mine definitely know their names, NO! (and I swear they say it back sometimes), and down. 

They also understand the snap and point. I'm sure this is actually a legit training move, but it's something my husband and I started doing. When they are somewhere we don't want them to be or if we want them to go somewhere we can usually say their name in combination with a snap and a point to the direction or location we want them to go. Often, if we are on the phone, we can easily just snap and point and they will do as commanded without hearing their name. 

post #26 of 35

Yes, I think Cats are smart. The more time you take to communicate with them, the more they understand. I noticed a while back that Angel knew quite a few words/names, so I wrote them all down,

and I think it was around 20! Anywhere from the neighbor's cat's name, who he knew, to words like ;

Din,din,

hungry?

breakfast,

play,

"get it"

birdie,

ball,

mousy,

brush,

treat,

kiss

night, night

mommy

grandma

up

no

go potty (I swear, if he hasn't gone sense the morning, & it's almost bed time, I will say" time to  go potty, or pee,pee", & usually w/in 5-10 Min's. he does!) (after 3 rounds of cystitis last yr!)

Angel

Boo Boo

Sheba

out

bye,bye

crunch, crunch (in attempt to get him to chew, or at least bite his treats, & not just swallow them! When he does I say good boy, so he gets it.) wink.gif

 

I may be predigest, but I think my sweet boy is pretty smart!  bigwink.gif

post #27 of 35

When I say can food and start the can opener Bella & Thunder come running. They are very smart.Bella is now 3 1/2 and Thunder is just over 1.

post #28 of 35
Larry definitely knows "hungry", "supper", "cuddle" and "brush". His actions after hearing these words are totally appropriate to the words. I say "hungry" or "supper" and he'll run to his bowl. If I say "brush", he'll roll over and wait for me to brush him.
post #29 of 35
Quote:
Originally Posted by nanner View Post

Larry definitely knows "hungry", "supper", "cuddle" and "brush". His actions after hearing these words are totally appropriate to the words. I say "hungry" or "supper" and he'll run to his bowl. If I say "brush", he'll roll over and wait for me to brush him.

When we get the brush out Thunder rolls over too. 

post #30 of 35
Mine know their names and simple commands,

1.get down
2. come here
3. they come when I whistle
4. no
5. Are you hungry? And they swarm me. This could be a learned response though.
6. Get it
7. I have one cat who headbops me in the face when I tell her I love her.
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