Baby Talk: Do Cats Like It?

Insight into how cats respond to us.

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Who’s a pretty kitty? Who does Mommy love? Look what I haaaave for you!

Come on, you know you do it at least sometimes — speak to your cat in high-pitched, affectionate tones as if she’s a baby or toddler. Does she appreciate it, or does she just think you’re nuts, and by the way, where’s the tuna?

Dogs most definitely respond. They often kind of melt when someone coos over them in a high voice. But dogs, at least from a cat’s point of view, are willing idiots.

With cats, it’s more subtle. And they won’t respond to just anybody.

Researchers made the discovery when they put 16 pet cats to the baby talk test in their own apartment building so they would not be distracted by having to travel and end up in a laboratory setting.

When the researchers played recordings of people talking to their cats in regular voices, the cats’ attention waned. But when the same sentences were then uttered by the cats’ owners in the way people talk to little ones (“Do you want to play? Do you want to eat?”), the cats responded. They would pause in their self-grooming, for example, or perhaps turn their heads slightly toward the sound and start moving toward their owners.

It has to be your cat

Interestingly, the cats did not respond  when a person who was not their family member spoke to them in loving, high-pitched tones. They were not more interested in what the strangers had to say than when those strangers uttered the same sentences in a way they would have uttered them to adults.

The researchers, from the University of Paris Nanterre, comment that while their study was a small one, their results corroborate those of previous investigations pointing to the cat-person bond. Cats “were not so long ago considered as independent and ungrateful creatures,” they write, but “are in fact very well capable of creating and fostering attachment bonds with humans.” They point to research showing that cats spend more time with their people after a period of separation as well as to evidence that “when given the choice, most cats would favor human social interaction over food, toys, and scents.”

The upshot: If you’ve ever felt funny about talking to your cat in endearing tones, don’t. It’s an instinctive way of allowing your pet to form a more secure attachment to you.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I can verify that this study is on the money, my five guys love it when I talk baby talk, or say their nicknames in baby talk. They’ve learned that they can con treats and extra grooming when I do so.

  2. Once had a cat named Tanooki, I lavished attention on him from day one-could even tickle his tummy (he would even fall asleep that way) then, one day I was sick & didn’t hug him-he got upset! Cats are funny.

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