Cats can recognise their own names but just chose not to listen to their owners, researchers claim.
The study by Sophia University in Japan showed felines responded by moving their heads or twitching an ear when their names were read out among three other words of a similar length.
And no reaction was spotted after the other words were spoken.
“There are so many studies about dog ability to communicate with humans. We think it is important to show cats’ ability.
“Many cat owners know that cats understand their own names.
“Cats understand human cues better than many people think,” Dr Atsuko Saito, first author of the study said.
Previous research has highlighted how other animals, including dogs, dolphins and parrots can too show some understanding of human vocalizations.
But until now, there has been no scientific evidence to suggest felines can show such understanding.
The experiment involved 78 cats in homes and “cat cafés” in Japan.
Yet the work has been criticised by other professionals.
Dr John Bradshaw, an expert on dog and cat behaviour at the University of Bristol, said: “In my view, the study doesn’t tell us much about the cat-human relationship, merely that cats are capable of learning the significance of particular sounds, something that most cat owners will know already.”
“For example, many use the rattle of the cat-biscuit box to persuade their cat to come indoors. It certainly doesn’t demonstrate that cats can understand human language,” the academic told The Guardian .