No matter what you call your feline friend (or what they were called before they entered your life), they will always be the same sweet soul who purrs with contentment as they lie on your chest.

Naming our furry family members is an important part of the bonding process. It’s also helpful for training purposes. If you use the same word often enough when talking to your cat, they’ll probably catch on at some point. But what if you want to start using their name to communicate right away? That’s where a little training comes in. 

Can Cats Learn Their Name?

The simple answer is yes! In a study[1] done at the University of Tokyo, the researchers concluded that cats can learn to recognize their names and discriminate their own names from other words. It’s even possible to teach your cat a new name after they’ve been called something else in the past. 

Choose A Simple Name for Your Cat

If you want your cat to recognize their name, keep it simple and be consistent. A one or two-syllable name is best. That doesn’t mean you can’t use a nickname in addition to their given name, but limit the number of names to no more than two for better results. For example, if your cat’s given name is Bailey and his nickname is Boo Boo, you will likely be successful in teaching him to respond to both. However, if the nickname is Casper BooBoo Smarty Pants the Great, it will amount to word salad for your cat.

Motivate Your Cat with Rewards

Because verbal praise doesn’t motivate most cats as consistently as it does with dogs, use a delicious food treat to inspire them. When used as a reward, these treats need to be something special — not their daily fare. Some good choices are lickable puree cat treats or soft chews.

Affection and play can also be good motivators for some cats. The key is tailoring the reward to your cat’s personality and preferences. Find something they love to make the learning process more effective.

What is Positive Reinforcement Training for Pets?
Behavior & Training
What is Positive Reinforcement Training for Pets?
Can You Train Cats?
Behavior & Training
Can You Train Cats?

Choose A Good Time and Place to Train Your Cat

Cats are more receptive to learning when you have their attention. The best time to work with them is when they are engaging with you. Work on training after a play session, a cuddle fest, or while you’re spending some peaceful time together. If using treats as the reward, conduct your training sessions when your cat is hungry so the reward will be more valuable to them.

Don’t do training sessions when your cat is distracted, nervous, or stressed. Distractions make it more difficult for you to capture and hold your cat’s interest in the training.

Use Positive Reinforcement to Teach Your Cat Their Name

Once you have christened your cat with a short name that everyone in the household is willing to use consistently, identified a preferred food treat or other reward, and scheduled a good time and place for your training sessions, it’s time for the fun! Use these simple steps to teach your cat their name:

  1. Sit about 2 feet from your cat. In a clear and happy tone, say your cat’s name. As soon as they look at you in response, immediately reward them with a treat placed right in front of them. If you’re using something other than food, like play or petting, have a very short session, then get back to the training. 
  2. Getting your cat to look at you when you speak their name may take a few attempts. If necessary, hold the food treat in front of their nose and then move it up to your eyes while saying their name at the same time. This will encourage them to follow the treat with their eyes.
  3. Repeat this process several times. Soon your cat will start associating their name with the positive reinforcement of the treat — eliciting an enthusiastic response whenever you call their name!
  4. Repeat the above routine a couple of times each day for 2 to 3 weeks. This helps ensure your cat learns not just to respond to their name but to direct their full attention to you when called.
  5. Once your cat reliably responds to their name, start phasing out the reward. For example, start with providing a treat only 75% of the time for a couple of days, then 50% for a couple of days, then 25% for a couple of days, then only intermittently. 
  6. Once those treats are gone, it’s important to reinforce your cat’s response to their name in other ways. This can be done by associating your cat’s name with positive activities. For example, call your cat’s name before a play session, before feeding time, or when giving affection. Even just quick verbal praise is great. It’s best to start these positive associations with your cat’s name even before phasing out the treats or other rewards.


Melody R. Conklin, VMD, MBA

Dr. Melody R. Conklin is originally from Youngsville in northwestern Pennsylvania and earned her BS at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park in 2003, where she majored in Animal BioScience and minored in Wildlife and Fisheries Science. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning her VMD in 2007. Dr. Conklin worked in companion animal general practice until 2015 when she joined Zoetis’ Veterinary Medical Information and Product Support department while finishing her MBA at Penn State Great Valley in 2017. Dr. Conklin currently works full-time in a companion animal practice while working with Zoetis US Petcare Medical Affairs in a consultant role. She lives in Sinking Spring, PA with her 4 cats, Vegeta, Fluffzor, Poof, & Butter, and 3 guinea pigs, Pascha, Elena, & Caroline.

  1. Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words. Nature News. Accessed June 15, 2022