Have you ever just stopped and looked into the inquisitive eyes of your furry kiddo? Do you ever wonder to yourself, “Just how smart are cats, really?”
Their antics perplex us, entertain us and well…. sometimes, infuriate us! Much like a child, our cats have their own unique form of intelligence and reasoning capabilities – albeit a bit on the impulsive side!
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”– Charles Dickens
Cats are highly intelligent creatures, especially if a food reward is involved! Though they do tend to accept your requests on their own terms, this by no means signals a lack of intelligence. Stubbornness? Yes. Stupid? Definitely not. Their innate curiosity coupled with their tenacity to achieve their unwavering goal is nothing shy of remarkable.
If you have been a cat lover or parent for any length of time, there’s no doubt in my mind you too have noticed that their personalities are as diverse as we humans.
For instance, my cat Sugar used to hang on every word I said. She knew well over 100 vocal prompts even though I hadn’t trained her with them. I simply talked to her as I would a human child. The more she listened, the more she understood and responded accordingly.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, I’ve had a few highly aloof kitties who weren’t in the least bit amused by my communication efforts or commands. 😀 You know the look only our beloved felines can give …. “Hmmm….Is there something in this for me??“
“Never try to outstubborn a cat.”― Robert A. Heinlein
Understanding The Feline Brain
Cats are notoriously difficult to study scientifically. Reasons for this are partially due to personality variances. While other reasons would include how they respond to stimuli – or don’t. Their independent nature makes them far less likely to submit to mere human’s desire for “testing.”
This fiercely independent streak has given them the reputation of being unteachable or less intelligent than their canine counterpart, for example. Quite the contrary is true in actuality.
They do have less of a desire to please, in general. A cat’s brain is geared more toward survival, says Dr. Jeff Warber. Overall, this indicates the brain of a cat lends itself less to being overtly social. The “social IQ” however does not automatically translate into smarts. It just means they are motivated by different things. (Reminds me of an introvert vs. extrovert personality)
Some years ago now, I became familiar with Dr. Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences in humans. The more I understood how flawed our system of comprehending intelligence is by mainstream societal standards, the more I thought about nature and the intellect of the various creatures within it.
With our limited structure by which to measure intelligence, I believe it is very difficult to truly know the depth by which cats perceive and process their world and us. Science journalist Ed Yong got it right by saying:
Testing animal cognition is a tricky business, and comparing and contrasting across species lines, especially when distinct species-specific tests are used, is fraught territory.Ed Yong at Smithsonian.com
Ed Yong goes on to say that there have been significant advancements studying animal cognition in an apples-to-apples scenario, where more conclusive results can be discovered.
Though this testing of animal intelligence is in its infancy, they have been able to successfully test self-control in many species. With advancements coming down the pike for this research field, I believe there are many fascinating studies to come, giving us a much better understanding of the animals we share our world with.
What we do know about our cat’s brains is fascinating, however.
Interesting Cat Brain Facts
Did you know: Structurally speaking, the cat brain is around 90% similar to the human brain? Not only that but cats have significant surface folding (wrinkling) on their brains, much like us.
What is surface folding responsible for, you ask? This unique feature of the brain increases surface area. Increased surface area provides more power for processing information, cues from us and their environment, emotions and other sensory related input. As it turns out, in terms of grading intelligence, the surface area (folding), structure and overall neurons available matter far more than brain size when determining how smart our cats are.
What’s more? The cerebral cortex [the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, planning, memory, and language-processing] in the brain of a cat is fairly advanced. So advanced in fact that cats are believed to possess around 300 million neurons, while dogs have around 160 million. To put this in perspective, we humans have approximately 11.5 billion neurons firing off at any given time.
The cerebral cortex is also responsible for retaining both long and short-term memory. If you’ve observed cats, you know they are masters at picking up when anything in their space has changed.
Witnessing this tells me everything I need to know about how cats map their world and remember what it looked like, smelled like and felt like when they last left it. Have you noticed this too?
Most fascinating of all to me however is what experts have deemed, “the solicitation purr.” Over time, our felines discovered that a certain high-frequency sound mimics a baby’s cry, getting our attention with ease. The similarity of a cat’s brain to a human’s brain paired with a cat’s vocal cord folds, allow them to trick our brains into immediate action, benefiting them greatly. 🙂
Cats have mastered manipulation. The worst part? They’re so cute, I don’t even care that I’m being used! I bet you can relate!
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Just How Smart Are Cats?
In her fascinating and must-read book, The Cat Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights & Proven Solutions for Your Feline Questions, expert cat behaviorist Arden Moore explains how to test your cat’s IQ with a theory called “object permanence.” This study of discernment originated to test cognitive development in children.
Try this: Show your kitty an object in plain view, such as their favorite toy. Then hide the toy by placing a solid object in front of it. If your cat looks behind the object to find the toy (instead of thinking it just disappeared), your kitty is considered to have the intelligence of at least an 18-month old toddler.
Extra smart kitties are capable of processing information similar to a 2 year old child! These cats would not only know to look behind the solid object to find their toy. They would also think ahead to where the object might move to. For example, they would predict the movement of a live mouse scooting out of sight momentarily – and wait until it reappears to pounce and catch their prized prey.
In her book, Arden Moore also touches on how cats learn by observation. This is why your kiddo may learn to open cabinets, doors, understand commands or any other brilliantly clever learned behavior.
The more you interact with them, the more their brains make connections enabling them to gain intelligence. In many ways, it is not that different from teaching a child.
What super smart abilities has your cat learned to do? Do you notice them listening as you speak, learning you and what you are communicating with them? (See also: The Cat Language Bible: Read & Reviewed for how to improve communication with your kitty)
As you can see, answering the age old question about how smart cats are comes with many different layers of answers.
Any proud cat parent will gush about the intelligence their own cat possesses. Some of this is due to the fact that cats do get smarter with time, if you are working with them. The more you interact with them, the more they mimic you. Hence the smarter they seem to become.
Cat Daddy Bill has nicknamed our cat Dizzy, “Charming” for a reason. She’s smart enough to know exactly what tugs on the heartstrings and will get her precisely what she wants. Sneaky? Oh yeah! Charming? I’d say unbelievably so.
Cats have a way of worming into our hearts like nothing else can. They are curious, witty, entertaining, silly, and can be downright brilliant!
What has your cat done that has simply amazed you? I’d love to hear from you. And as always, many thanks and much love for sharing this article with your friends on social media. ❤ Thank you for reading!