It is a scenario every cat owner has faced-you want to get your cat to come to you, perhaps because they need to come in for the night, you are wondering where they are, or you want to check that they are ok-and you get absolutely no response, even when your cat is in earshot.
Dogs, on the other hand, tend to respond promptly when you call their names, because training has led to them recognising the name and tone of voice that you use to call them, and taught them that there might be a treat or some attention in it for them when they come!
If you have spent many a frustrating hour looking for your cat and calling them, only to find that they were simply sitting nearby watching and listening to you do this with absolutely no compunction, you have probably wondered why this is-and if there is anything that you can do to get a better response from your cat next time!
In this article, we will answer the question of why cats often ignore you when you call them, and how you can get their attention instead. Read on to learn more.
Living with a cat can be alternately hilarious and exasperating, and the cat’s independence and unwillingness to be pigeonholed or respond in the ways that we want them to are part of what makes a cat a cat! However, a lot of the disconnect between human expectation and cat behaviour comes from the fact that we often misunderstand our cats and how they communicate and show responses to things-while dogs actively moderate their behaviour to bridge the gap between our two species, cats do not.
While your cat might know their name-although this isn’t always a given-the ways in which cats use vocalisations to communicate and so, interpret our own vocalisations differ significantly from those of both humans and dogs.
While humans talk with each other constantly and dogs also continually use a repertoire of sounds throughout the day, cats rarely communicate vocally without good reason-with the odd notable exception such as cats of the Siamese breed, who often seem to have a whole language of their own!
Cats only “talk” when they want something-such as food or attention-or particularly, in highly charged situations such as when facing a threat, or as part of mating rituals. Additionally, as the owner and caregiver of your cat, you are their human parent, and your relationship with them will, in your cat’s eyes, include many of the same connections that cats have in their relationship with their mother when they are young.
Queens only tend to use vocalisations with their kittens in warning as an alert to danger, or to find a kitten that has wandered off, and you will rarely hear even a generally vocal cat meowing at her litter in other circumstances.
Ergo, when you are calling your cat and they are in earshot, they are unlikely to respond because they do not perceive a threat or danger and know that they are not lost, making your repeated entreaties for your cat to show themselves or come in meaningless, in your cat’s eyes!
For cats, the fact that you want them to do something is not a good enough reason in itself-your cat has to understand why you want the thing that you do, and assign value to it themselves.
Ergo, calling your cat in or calling throughout the home when you can’t find your cat will generally not elicit a response from your cat, because they have no good reason to follow your command, unless they also happen to be in the mood to say hello or want some attention.
In order to convince your cat to come to you when you need them to, or to show themselves when you are looking for them, you have to start thinking like a cat.
If you are walking around the neighbourhood calling your cat, your cat is more likely to show themselves than they are if you stand in the garden and call, because seeing you out and about is out of context for your cat, and they are more likely to appear to say hello and find out what you are doing!
However, the best way to get your cat to come when called involves offering something to your cat that they value or are interested in, and your voice is not it! Try shaking a bag of treats alongside of your calls, and you might be surprised at how fast your cat appears out of the hedge, where they were likely sitting all along!
Get your cat used to coming when you call them by means of shaking treats or jingling a favourite toy, even when you don’t actually need to find your cat. This will help in situations where calling your cat might be important, or mean the end of their fun-such as if you are calling them to close them in for the night-because otherwise they will associate being called with curbing their behaviour.