Your coy cat may be paying closer attention than it lets on.
A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that a cat was able to copy a human’s actions after being trained to do so. While other researchers have studied the ability of animals like dogs, orangutans and rats to mimic human behavior, the authors of the paper claimed this was the first time someone has observed the ability in cats.
Most of the existing data on cats’ social learning skills focuses on food, according to the paper. But cats are one of the few species with lots of potential for social learning from humans since they’re kept as pets.
Fumi Higaki works with her cat, Ebisu. (Animal Cognition)
Claudia Fugazza, the lead author and a professor at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, found a dog trainer in Japan, Fumi Higaki, who had used the “do I as do” method with dogs.
Under that method, the trainer tells an animal, “Do as I do,” then demonstrates an action and says, “Do it.”
Higaki was able to train her 11-year-old cat, Ebisu, to cop actions like spinning, standing on hind legs and opening a small drawer.
With the researchers recording, Higaki also got the cat to lay her face on a box, or touch an object with the paw on the same side as the hand Higaki used, meaning the cat could “map” the woman’s body parts to her own.
The findings reportedly suggest that animals may have evolved such behaviors earlier than had been known, according to the paper.
Kristyn Vitale, a cat cognition researcher and animal behaviorist at Unity College, told Science magazine that the study boosts the idea that cats are “watching us and learning from us.”
“It’s really exciting,” Vitale told the magazine.
Ginger cat sitting on floor in living room and looking at camera after cleaning itself. Funny pet pose
Not everyone was as impressed. Claudio Tennie, an ethologist at the University of Tubingen, told Science that it’s impossible to know whether cats can innately imitate humans or whether the training for this cat gave it the skill.
“We can train bears to ride motorcycles. That doesn’t mean bears ride motorcycles,” Tennie told the magazine.
The researchers are planning more studies on cats’ cognition.