How Smart Are Cats?: Intelligence In Cats Measured

loneliness in cats

Of the many furry companions that humans have bonded with, cats are some of the smartest pets that live alongside us.

Most domesticated cats have an incredible capacity for problem-solving, decision making, and critical thinking that may surprise even their owners.

At the same time, they may also get their claws stuck in a blanket and cry until someone sets them free.

Much like humans, the level of intelligence found in domestic cats varies; but is there an IQ Test that can be used to measure feline intelligence?

How does your cat’s intelligence compare to that of humans and other animals?

Your cat may be capable of much more intelligent thought processes than you may think.

So, how smart are cats really? Let’s find out.

How Is Intelligence Measured?

Measuring intelligence, no matter the species, has always been a tricky issue to approach. In humans, many consider the IQ Test to be the foundational measure for intelligence.

Generally, intelligence in animals, also known as animal cognition, is measured based on survival behavior.

Realistically, it would not make much sense to measure animal intelligence based on language skills, as animals are not capable of human speech.

In the wild, scientists may consider an animal’s ability to use tools in order to gather food as proof of some type of rudimentary problem solving skills.

However, measures of intelligence go farther(1.) than simple problem solving to get a meal.

Scientists may also measure an animal’s ability to cooperate with others, remember where or when certain things occur, utilize self-control, and use tools to accomplish other tasks.

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how smart are cats really?

In order to measure an animal’s intelligence, a scientist will conduct a series of tests to measure its ability to exhibit these characteristics.

These experiments vary widely from study to study, and it is particularly tricky to choose a series of tests that isn’t a measure of specific skills instead of overall intelligence.

Many animals may have inherent skills that come as a result of their species; for example, food-gathering instincts that are not reflective of overall intelligence.

When gauging intelligence, it can be easy to fall into the assumption that a bigger brain automatically means that an animal will be more intelligent.

However, studies have shown that the brain’s structure(2.) is far more important than overall size. The more complex the brain structure, the more intelligent that an animal tends to be.

A cat’s brain is actually incredibly similar to a human’s; it has been found that the physical structures of a cat’s brain are approximately 90% similar to ours.

Furthermore, a higher number of neurons found in the brain also generally correlate with higher intelligence.

Cats have approximately 250 million neurons(3.) in their brain, which is admittedly much less than the approximate 100 billion(4.) in a human brain.

In order to measure a cat’s intelligence, there are a series of characteristics that are easier to focus in on and qualify.

These may include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • How do cats learn how to perform new behaviors?
  • Can cats perform complex routines?
  • Can cats solve new problems in creative and efficient ways?
  • Can cats read emotions in other cats and other species?
  • Can a cat learn its name?

There are a variety of ways that these characteristics can be tested.

Some are easier than others; while it may be easy to see if a cat will respond to its name, it may be far more difficult to determine whether or not it has undergone the complex cognitive process that is problem solving.

In order to learn more about the specific methods that you can utilize to measure your cat’s intelligence, keep reading!

cat and mouse. cat standing against mouse. cat facing small mouse.
intelligence in cats measured…

How Do Cats Perform In Intelligence Tests?

Overall, it has been shown time and time again that cats are an extremely intelligent species.

While they may not be capable of many of the same things that humans are capable of, it has been shown that they are very good at learning new behaviors, adapting to changing social situations, and solving unique problems.

Learning New Behaviors

While cats can oftentimes be incredibly stubborn, they have an amazing capacity to learn how to do new things.

For example, much like dogs, cats can be trained by humans to perform complex routines. However, cats have to be motivated to learn in a way that is markedly different from dogs.

While a dog can be rewarded with physical affection, cats tend to respond more positively to the promise of food rewards.

Once a cat is properly motivated to have a reason to learn a new task, their ability to perform is amazing to witness.

Some cats, such as Nora the Piano Cat, have learned how to play musical instruments, and countless cats have learned how to perform complex routines for the sake of entertainment.

Social Intelligence

One of the most impressive aspects of feline intelligence is their ability to learn from and adapt to the moods and actions of others.

While cats are generally understood to be “anti-social” animals, it has been found that they have complex social structures(5.) amongst their own species.

Cat society has been found to be matriarchal, with dominant lineages traced maintaining control over the best resources.

Cats also have complicated systems of body language and behaviors in order to communicate with other cats in lieu of spoken language.

Simultaneously, cats have also been found to be capable of adapting their behavior based on the emotions of the humans around them. 

One study (6.)found that the majority of the time, a cat will gauge a human’s response to a new object in order to determine how they should be responding to its introduction.

79% of the cats tested would follow the gaze of a human in investigating an object and would subsequently adapt depending on how the human was instructed to respond emotionally, either positively or negatively.

how smart are cats

Problem Solving

A pampered kitty usually doesn’t have too many problems to solve.

However, cats have been found to be much better than dogs at solving puzzles.

Unlike dogs who will look to humans for assistance, cats are much more prone to conducting individual trial-and-error tests until they find the correct solution.

In this way, cats are much more independent than dogs.

At the same time, it has also been found that cats are not as good as dogs at counting and identifying quantities.

How Smart Are Cats When Compared To Other Animals and Humans?

The easiest species to compare cats to are the #1 pet choice for people across the globe: dogs!

However, it is incredibly difficult to compare a cat’s intelligence to a dog’s for the same reason that many people reject the validity of IQ Testing: because they are intelligent in different ways.

Intelligence isn’t something that can be measured in numbers, as there is no objective way to determine what makes one animal smarter than another.

In general, as earlier stated, dogs are considered to be much smarter social animals than cats.

However, some argue that this is largely due to the fact that cats are much more wary towards strange people and situations than dogs are; lackluster performance in intelligence testing may not be due to lower levels of intelligence, but may instead be a result of a nervous cat in an unfamiliar situation.

Dogs have also bee found to be much better at comprehending quantities, and have the advantage of being largely bred specifically to meet human needs.

On the other hand, cats are able to solve problems without the assistance of humans.

They are also able to learn new behaviors purely by observing humans, sometimes without any motivation to learn said skill.

When compared against racoons, it has been found that a cat’s intelligence is slightly less than that of animals of the same brain and overall size.

telling how smart a cat is. measuring cat intelligence.

Objectively, it is believed that racoons have approximately the same intelligence as dogs, whereas cats are about as intelligent as bears.

On the much larger end of the spectrum, cats are not nearly as intelligent as elephants or gorillas,(7.) who have been found to be capable of performing many of the complex behaviors that had previously been considered to be unique to humans.

When compared against humans, it is easy to assume that cats have a much lower level of intelligence.

From many perspectives, this would appear to be irrefutable: cat’s can’t use spoken language, can’t solve math problems, and don’t know the first thing about building complex machines.

At the same time, there are a variety of things that cats are much better than humans at.

For example, cats are much better predators than humans; while humans needed to invent tools to hunt wild animals and eventually domesticated the majority of our food sources, cats are far more capable of providing for themselves with the biological tools that they have been given.

Cats are intelligent in their own ways that are specific to the problems that they tend to face.

To say that cats are more or less intelligent than other species that exhibit similar levels of cognitive function is to ignore the fact that each animal is intelligent in their own unique way.

What Are the Smartest Cat Breeds?

When determining the varying levels of intelligence found in various cats breeds, we run into a similar issue. Different breeds are intelligent in different ways. 

In general, Abyssinians, Siamese, Bengals, and Balinese cats are considered to be the smartest cat breeds.

Due to the fact that a cat’s social intelligence is considered to be less developed than other similar species, the varying levels of intelligence amongst various cat breeds is usually measured based on how well they interact with others.

These cat breeds are therefore considered to be “more intelligent” due to the fact that they mesh well with humans and enjoy interaction.

how smart are cats…

How Can I Measure My Cat’s Intelligence?

There are a variety of ways that you can test your cat’s intelligence at home!

Just remember: no matter how your kitty scores, they still have their own personal strengths that make them a unique member of your family dynamic!

Does your cat react to its name?

From a distance, preferably when your cat is calm and not paying any particular attention to you, start saying a series of random words out loud.

Wait about 10-15 seconds in between each word, and pay attention to how your cat reacts. After a few words, say your cat’s name and watch for a reaction.

If they react to their name when they don’t react to other words, such as by turning their head or swiveling their ears, then your cat knows what its name means!

Also read: Do cats know their names?

Can your cat remember where you place objects of interest?

Take your cat’s favorite toy or treat and make sure that they see it in your hand. Hide the treat or toy underneath or behind something solid.

If your cat actively looks for the object underneath or behind something else, then it has approximately the same intelligence of an 18-month old toddler.

Does your cat remember dinner-time?

Does your cat start pestering you for dinner at a certain time every single night? If so, then your cat has an excellent memory!

Cats remembering when it is time for dinner shows that they can remember these things, and remember routines, and what to expect at certain times.

Also read: How many teeth do cats have?

How does your cat communicate its needs to you?

Will your cat circle your feet in the kitchen when they want food?

Do they meow loudly outside of the litterbox when it needs to get cleaned?

If your cat finds ways to explicitly convey ideas to you instead of seeking its own solutions, such as using your bedsheets as a new litterbox, then it has excellent communication skills: a sign of advanced intelligence!

As you can see, cats are quite intelligent animals and there are many ways how to tell how smart a cat is.

It will ultimately depend on each cat how intelligent it is, but most of them can be quite brilliant indeed.


Author: Cathour

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