Popular opinion would indicate that most pet owners believe their dogs are smarter than their cats. However, we might not be giving our feline friends enough credit. Cats aren’t as good at performing tricks. They won’t usually run agility courses at their owner’s request, they don’t sniff out bombs or help the blind, but cats can be very intelligent in different ways. There have been many studies to try and answer the question: is your cat smart?
Many studies over the years have attempted to assess the intelligence of cats. Cats can often prove difficult to understand. However, many people think their cat is intelligent. Most of us can think of smart things that our cats have done. A lot of cats seem to show a great capacity for critical thinking and problem-solving. However, is this just owners reading to much into their cat’s behaviour? Or is your cat smart?
It is sometimes difficult to assess things like intelligence in animals. We tend to measure their intelligence compared with how it stacks up against our own. For creatures like cats, this can make things complicated. Much like with people, there is more than one way to measure intelligence with animals. Cats aren’t necessarily stupider than dogs, they have a different kind of intelligence. Cats might not have the same type of intelligence as humans, but that doesn’t mean that your cat isn’t smart. To actually assess if your cat is smart, we need to look at how they use their intelligence for their own purposes.
Do Fewer Neurons Mean That Your Cat Isn’t smart?
Many researchers studying cats have attempted to find an answer to the question; is your cat smart? One recent study has attempted to boil it down to the number of neurones that your cat has. The experiment measured how many were connected to the cerebral cortex. This is the area of the brain where a lot of the heavy lifting is done. It is central to intelligence in people, and in many other creatures. It is a good place to start when assessing if your cat is smart. This particular study focused on the neurones, viewing the number of them as a good benchmark for overall intelligence. This is just one way of determining if your cat is smart, but there are other approaches.
This study found that dogs have twice as many of these neural connections as an average cat. Does this mean cats aren’t as smart as Dogs? Not necessarily, but they lack the same connections from one area of the brain to another that typically allows for activity that we would register as intelligence. It does mean that their brains have less of a resemblance to our own than dogs. This isn’t on the whole surprising though. Researchers have found that early dogs were a result of some wolves having brain patterns that instinctively seek out socialisation in pretty much the same way that early humans did. This makes them a little easier to compare.
These Neurons are completely unrelated to brain size. The size of the brain does not account for the amount of higher processes going on inside. A smaller dog will still have more neurons than a large cat. Despite their size, cats have fewer neurons than dogs. This doesn’t entirely answer the question of is your cat smart. This study just gives us one view.
Is Your Cat Smart in Different Ways?
The structure of a cat’s brain is almost 90% the same as that of a human. This might sound like a lot, but that 10% of difference amounts for a lot. While cats don’t have the same amount of neuron connections to the cerebral cortex as a human or a dog, they exceed us in other ways. Cats have considerably more developed visual areas of their brain. These areas are better developed than in most animals, including humans. This means that your cat has intelligence in their vision that exceeds our own. This heightened sense can give them all sorts of advantages, even if that might be hard to see as they play with toys all day.
This is why the approach of comparing cat intelligence to humans is a little flawed. If you really want to know if your cat is smart or not, you have to consider that they have intelligence in a different way to us. The intelligence in cats might not seem like a benefit to us, but to a cat it is vital. If your cat was measuring your intelligence, they’d likely deduct some points for your poor hunting skills! Cats have a different life and different needs to humans, so it is natural that their intelligence isn’t the same.
When compared with dogs, the differing levels of domestication have to be considered. Experts agree that cats are considerably less domesticated than dogs. The intelligence and day to day life of a dog are completely geared to socialising with humans. A cat, on the other hand, doesn’t have that same relationship with us. While we can measure a dog’s intelligence in how well they perform in human set tests, it is different for a cat.
Which Breed of Cat is Smartest?
Some breeds of cat are smarter than others. For Mixed breeds, it can be even more complicated. With mixed breeds, intelligence is probably best judged from one cat to another. However, there are some purebred cats that are universally known for being smart. Some can even learn tricks. If you have an intelligent breed, is your cat smart? This still doesn’t entirely answer the question. Even when picking the smartest breed, the interpretation of intelligence becomes a factor again.
It is usually said that there are three breeds of cat that are the smartest. Abyssinian cats, Siamese cats, and Bengal cats. These few breeds are routinely highlighted as specifically intelligent and the smartest of cats. However, this is because of their interactions with humans. These cats are the three breeds that interact and socialise with humans in the way that we can most easily understand. These breeds of cat have intelligence in interacting socially with us in the same way that dogs do. This makes their intelligence easier for us to measure.
Other breeds of cat have heightened senses compared with these breeds. For a race of hunters that have come to live with humans, this might make hunting cats much smarter than their sociable cousins. However, this intelligence is of little use to owners who want a sociable companion. Some individual cats have been known to perform bizarrely intelligent actions. These unique cats can learn behaviours that seem far too complicated for a cat. However, these unique applications of their intelligence for something that humans can understand are rare. Measuring intelligence by interaction with humans can show some intelligent breeds, but not full intelligence.
Is Your Dog or Cat Smarter?
When trying to decide if your cat is smart, it would be easy to just compare them to a dog. Dog and Cat people have, for a long time, had discussions over which pet is the smartest. This even factors into the research mentioned above, in which cats were compared directly to dogs. While each pet-owner has their own opinion of their furry friends, which are more intelligent as measured by scientists?
Researchers have found that dogs are a little smarter than cats. Is your cat smart? Not as smart as a dog. This is mainly based on their ability to interact with humans. They are considerably more trainable. Dogs are able to learn much more complicated tricks and skills. They also possess senses that are elevated compared to ours, which they are able to use to perform services for owners. This is most commonly seen in sniffer dogs. They can also be trained to perform complex tasks, like service dogs used for the blind.
A lot of this intelligence you can chalk up to dogs being domesticated for far longer than cats. Dogs have stronger biological links to humans, so they’re easier to test by having them perform set tasks. Cats are harder to test as they are unwilling to perform arbitrary tasks for humans. It’s possible that cats could use their heightened sense to do things for humans much like dogs do. However, you would have a hard time convincing a cat to do so. As we’ve previously seen, dogs might be a little smarter than your cat. Your cat might still be smart, but not in a way that is accessible to humans like a dog.
Is Your Cat Smart?
All in all, your cat is probably smart. Cats are by no means stupid animals, they possess great intelligence, this much is clear from watching them in their own habitats. However, they are much wilder animals than dogs. Their intelligence is not entirely dependent on human interaction. They are less biologically built to fit in with humans. This makes them appear stupider by our standards, but they are really just a different type of animal.
Cats can be very smart. Many have performed very impressive tricks. New studies often make headlines about a cat’s intelligence. It is worth baring in mind that studying animal intelligence is a difficult task and often not something that can be boiled down into a media friendly few paragraphs. It is tempting to make generalisations. However, cats have a type of intelligence that is difficult for us to measure. Your cat is smart, but they’re smart for their own purposes rather than to help us.