New research suggests that cats do indeed recognize their owner’s voice, they just choose to ignore it. Researchers in Japan conducted research by measuring 20 house cats’ reactions (movement of their ears, paws, head, or tail and whether they meowed or dilated their pupils) when responding to their owner calling their name or other normal cat-talk. They then compared the cats’ reactions to recordings of strangers using the same language. While the cats had a significant greater response from their owners’ calls, they didn’t bother to get up.
The reason why cats don’t respond to owners’ calls may be that they indeed control the domesticated relationship with humans, partly due to evolution, according to a story about the research in The Independent. “Recent genetic analysis has revealed that the common ancestor of the modern housecat was Felis silvestris, a species of wildcat that first came into contact with humans around 9,000 years ago. As early societies developed agriculture, these cats moved in to prey on the rodents that were attracted to stores of grain. In the words of the paperâ€™s authors, they effectively domesticated themselves: “Historically speaking, cats, unlike dogs, have not been domesticated to obey humansâ€™ orders. Rather, they seem to take the initiative in humanâ€“cat interaction.â€ This is in contrast to the history of dogs and humans, where the former has been bred over thousands of years to respond to orders and commands. Cats, it seems, never needed to learn.”