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Can Cats Recognize Faces? What Science Says

In Ancient Egypt, the taking of pets by families was already a very common practice. Families would take dogs that were well loved not just for their companionship, but for the different tasks that they were able to perform as part of the family. Cats, however, unlike dogs, were treated differently.

Did you know that cats in Ancient Egypt were worshipped and treated like gods?

Wealthy Egyptian families would take the time to dress their cats in jewelry in honor of these magical creatures. Cats in the Ancient Egyptian culture lived in luxury in the care of their owners and this spoiling of our furry friends is seen even in the modern-day. Although cat owners no longer treat their pet cats as gods, cats are generally spoiled pets even in today’s setting.

But with all this treatment that humans give cats, do cats even bother to recognize their owner? Can cats recognize faces?

While the short answer is yes, cats do not really recognize humans the way we would normally think they do.

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The History Between Cats and Humans

cat walking in the wild_caligari77, Pixabay
Image Credit: caligari77, Pixabay

The truth is cats never really had the need to recognize human faces. Unlike dogs who were domesticated for their ability to perform certain tasks, cats just happened to wander into human societies due to the abundance of rodents and other natural prey. Cats naturally co-existed with humans while dogs were trained to complete tasks.

Although cats’ history with humans dictates that they did not need to recognize the faces of humans, many studies show that they do recognize humans by using different cues other than faces.

How Do Cats Recognize People?

Cats do not simply rely on vision alone to recognize humans. While they can recognize a person’s face, they also use their other senses to distinguish one person from another.


domestic cat looking up
Image Credit: birgl, Pixabay

A study by the Pennsylvania State University in 2005 found that both dogs and cats can recognize their owners’ faces through picture cut-outs alone. While dogs performed better in the task, cats were also found to be able to identify faces of other cats through picture cut-outs, indicating that cats do recognize faces.

Another indication that cats can recognize people’s faces was an experiment performed by Oakland University in 2015 that found that cats behave differently around people when showing different facial expressions, such as happy or sad, regardless of the person being familiar or unfamiliar to the cat.


Cats are also able to recognize voices. An experiment by the University of Tokyo found that cats would show a change of behavior such as tail, ear, or eye movements when hearing a familiar voice. Cats would also perform localization by orienting themselves to people’s voices, indicating vocal recognition.


Just like other animals, cats have a very acute sense of smell. They are able to recognize the scents of different people, animals, and themselves! Have you ever noticed your cat rub her body against yours? She is actually transferring her scent to you!

Routines and Patterns

a cat biting woman's chin
Image Credit: Goncharov_Artem, Shutterstock

Cats are creatures of habit. With that said, cats are also able to recognize routines of patterns that benefit them. They are aware of who in the house gives them food, snacks, and water.

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Can Cats Recognize Their Owner?

While not as good at recognizing faces as dogs, cats are still able to recognize people’s faces, including their owners. Cats just have a unique way of doing it, using different cues through their other senses, and integrating them with the sight of their owner’s faces.

Cats recognize their owners through the sight of their face, the sound of their voice, the smell of their scent, and the routines and patterns of their owner!

Related Read: How to Tell If Your Cat Loves You: 12 Signs to Look For

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Featured Image Credit: Yuriy Seleznev, Shutterstock