How To Teach Your Cat Their Name in 5 Simple Steps

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Cats might come running when they hear a bag of treats being opened, or the sound of the food cupboard door opening, but what if you want your cat to come to you when you call their name?

Quick Overview


It can be useful for cats to respond to their name, and science has shown that it is very possible to teach them this skill.


Teach your cat their name by using positive reinforcement methods, which form a link between hearing their name and receiving a reward.


Repetition of this technique will teach your cat to consistently respond to their name.

You probably spent a good amount of time choosing a good name for your cat, but to them a name (even the perfect name!) is just a word until proven otherwise. So how can you teach a cat their name? Using positive training methods, patience and consistency, your cat can learn that responding to their name is rewarded, and will therefore begin to do this repeatedly and reliably.

Not sure where to start? We’ve put together some simple steps to help!

Teaching Your Cat Their Name

It’s a common myth that cats, unlike dogs, can’t be trained. It’s very true that cats are not just small dogs, but domestic cats have developed many traits over their years living in human environments, and can be very responsive to working with their owners. It has been shown that adult cats can learn their own names.

It can be useful for cats to know their name, whether that’s to call them in at dinner time, to reassure them during a visit to the veterinarian, or as a warning when curious paws are edging toward danger. Training cats using positive reinforcement techniques is also a rewarding bonding exercise for both owner and cat.

How To Prepare

When teaching a cat’s name, a little bit of preparation can help. Setting yourself up for success can make all the difference.

Most importantly, you need to make sure you’re happy with the name. Changing what you call your cat, including nicknames, can be confusing for them and will lead to non-responsiveness. You don’t need to pick a new name, but make sure whatever you choose can be used repeatedly and consistently.

A one or two-syllable name is best, as very long names can be more difficult to learn, and are more likely to be shortened or altered in some way during training. Try not to use a name that’s too similar to another pet (or family member), or one that sounds like a command word. Stuck for inspiration? Check out some great name ideas.

Initially, start training sessions in a quiet room with no distractions. As your cat gets used to responding to their name you can add in some extras, such as their feline or canine roommates, some novel scents or sounds, or other distractions to practice their response in a range of environments. For beginners, quiet and calm is best.

The best time for training is a little before feeding time. Your cat will be starting to get hungry and will be extra motivated for treats, but not so hungry that they can’t concentrate.

The other key piece of preparation is to think about your cat’s personality and behavior to find what motivates them most. If they’re very food orientated, then pick up some super tasty treats to use as their reward in training sessions—perhaps some tuna, chicken, or a small piece of cheese.

Keep treats small, and remember to adjust their food intake accordingly. Other cats are more enthused by toys, such as a feather on a string, or a dash around after a laser pointer. Some may prefer physical affection such as a stroke or a chin rub. This part of your cat’s temperament is key to knowing how best to motivate and reward them.

5 Simple Steps

Young woman stroking cat at table

Choose a quiet place free from distractions to begin teaching your car their name.

Now you’re ready to start teaching your cat their name. Follow these five simple steps:

  1. Take the cat into your designated quiet area, and place them close to you—around 1.5 feet. When settled, say their name in a clear, bright voice. If they look at you, say “Yes!” or “Well done!” in a warm, happy tone, and immediately give them their reward.
  2. When they break eye contact, pause for a while and then repeat their name. When they look at you, repeat the verbal praise and reward. Repeat a few times and then give your cat a rest.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 over the next few days, keeping sessions short but frequent to maximize learning.
  4. When your cat reliably looks at you when you call their name, try making it a little harder. Place them farther away from you, try alternating from standing up or from a sitting position, and add in distractions such as a new toy or another pet into the room. Add these changes slowly over the course of multiple sessions, so as not to overwhelm your cat.
  5. Once your cat is reliably responding to their name, you can reduce the frequency of the treat or positive activities, sometimes giving just verbal praise or a quick stroke instead of a treat every single time.

Problem Solving

If your cat can’t seem to pick this skill up, remember that some cats will take slightly longer to develop this response. That might be due to a cat’s temperament, their age, or perhaps they’re not interested in the reward you are offering.

Don’t punish cats for not responding, or repeat their name louder and louder. This will only cause stress and anxiety. Give them a break, and try again another time—perhaps with a different reward.

Keep sessions short and fun. Mix up the rewards, have a break to play, or try something completely different, like clicker training or cat harness training.

Be patient. Good training takes time. Schedule in frequent sessions and try not to get frustrated. Some cats will pick up this technique within days; others might take weeks.

Does It Work?

pet in sofa

Studies have demonstrated that cats are capable of learning many new skills, including responding to their own name.

Positive reward training is a wonderful way to interact with your cat, and is suitable for all ages of cats from kitten right up to senior cats! It has been shown to be effective at training cats new tasks.

To set you and your cat up for success, consider these tips:

  • Schedule in a brief training session every day. This will really help your cat to get the hang of it quickly.
  • Don’t punish your cat or get frustrated. Training takes time and patience
  • Be consistent by always using the same name. This might sound simple, but many cat owners use a nickname, short form, or affectionate name for their cat, often interchangeably. This can be confusing for our pets.
  • Choose a time for training when your cat is alert, but calm. Don’t expect good results if they’ve just woken from a nap, or are fixated on a mouse or other small prey out in the yard.
  • Don’t overdo the food. Use small pieces of food as a treat, and remember to adjust your cat’s usual diet accordingly to prevent overfeeding and obesity.

It is very possible for cats to learn their names, and can be a really useful skill. Follow a positive reinforcement technique using our five simple steps for success!

Also Read: 5 Easy Tricks to Teach Your Cat According to a Cat Behaviorist

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to teach a cat its name?

Yes, cats can learn their names. Using positive reinforcement techniques, you can train a cat to recognize their name, and even respond to it.

How long does it take for a cat to learn its name?

If you spend some consistent training time every day, most cats will learn their names within a week or so. Some might pick it up within days, but others might take longer, depending on age, temperament, and training method.

Do cats know they have a name?

Cats might not understand the actual concept of a "name," but they can learn to associate a particular word with a resulting action, So they can learn to respond when you call their specific name.

View Sources uses high-quality, credible sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the claims in our articles. This content is regularly reviewed and updated for accuracy. Visit our About Us page to learn about our standards and meet our veterinary review board.
  1. Saito, A., et al. (2019). "Domestic cats (Felis catus) discriminate their names from other words." Scientific Reports, 9, 5394

  2. Erin K. Willson, Rachael B. Stratton, Charlotte F. Bolwell, Kevin J. Stafford "Comparison of positive reinforcement training in cats: A pilot study." Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 21, 2017, 64-70.

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About Dr. Lizzie Youens BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS

Lizzie has worked in companion animal practice for over ten years, in a variety of roles from small rural branch surgeries to large hospital environments. She also enjoys reading, gardening and spending time with her young daughters. She covers cat behavior, nutrition, health, and other topics for