Skip to main content
Blog Hero Image

How Smart Are Cats?

Are cats intelligent? You bet! In fact, cats are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet. Although studies on feline intelligence are ongoing, scientists believe that cats are uniquely smart when compared to dogs and other animals.

And of course, if you’re a cat owner, you’ve likely seen evidence of your cat’s intelligence firsthand. So, just how smart are cats? Read on to find out!

Just How Smart Are Cats?

If you suspect that your cat is too smart for his own good, you’re probably right! Cats not only excel at learning new information, but they can also mesh that information with things they’ve learned previously, recall it when needed, and apply it to the current situation.

While we do know that cats are highly intelligent, we may never know the full extent of their cognitive abilities. That’s because cats are notoriously unpredictable and uncooperative when participating in studies. Clearly, cats have a keen aptitude for learning and making up their own minds!

Cat Intelligence vs Human Intelligence

A cat’s brain measures only about two inches and weighs around an ounce, occupying less than 1% of its body mass. While it’s true that intelligence is seated in the brain, it’s the brain structure and surface folding that determine intelligence, not the actual brain size. 

And it turns out that a feline's surface folding and brain structure are 90% similar to that of the human brain. Much like the human brain, each part of the cat brain is compartmentalized, specialized, and connected to the other parts of its brain. This gives cats an almost human-like ability to understand, respond to, and even manipulate their surroundings.

That being said, the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that controls rational thinking and decision-making. In the human brain, the cerebral cortex contains around 21 - 26 billion neurons, while a cat’s cerebral cortex has about 300 million neurons. Experts believe that a feline’s intelligence is comparable to that of a 2-year-old human.

How Does a Cat’s Brain Work?

In both felines and humans, the cerebral cortex not only governs higher brain functions like rational thought but also things like short and long-term memory and problem-solving. Memories are used to store and recall information from past experiences. 

There is evidence that cats can recall and use information from their memories. They can also learn through observation and doing and it’s not uncommon for a cat to learn how to ring a bell, turn on a light switch, or even open a door simply by watching their human companions. 

Cats excel at procedural and spatial memory and are known to retain their memories for 10 years or more. What’s even more fascinating is that cats can associate individual memories of places or events with the emotions they experienced at that time. They can remember experiencing fear, pain, or trauma, as well as positive emotions like happiness or contentment.

Studies also show that cats are aware of objects that aren’t directly visible to them. They understand that something that’s out of sight isn’t necessarily gone forever. This ability is called object permanence recognition.

In addition to having top-notch short-term and long-term memory, cats also have impeccable vision. In other words, your cat really is giving you the evil eye when you’re packing a suitcase. He sees what you're doing and remembers the last time you took the suitcase out. You were gone for a long time, and he’s not at all pleased about it!

Signs of Intelligence in Cats

  • Cats can learn and respond to their name.

  • Cats can tell the difference between a familiar voice and that of a stranger.

  • Cats are persistent when they really want something, and are more likely to hold a grudge if they don’t get their way.

  • Cats can pick up on and recognize their owner’s emotional cues, such as fear, anger, happiness, and sadness. They observe your emotional reactions to evaluate how they should react to an unfamiliar object or situation. They can even respond to physical cues like pointing and these skills often improve with age.

  • Cats are smart enough to make up their own minds and aren’t as easily influenced by social rewards as dogs and some other animals.

  • Cats have a natural internal clock that tells them when to hunt and when to rest, but they're smart enough to readjust their natural behaviors according to our daily routines. This is known as associative learning. 

Which Cat Breeds are the Smartest?

Are some breeds of cats smarter than others? Many people believe that Bengals, Siamese, and Abyssinians are the smartest cat breeds. But in truth, these breeds are extremely social breeds who are happiest when they’re playing and interacting with humans.

While this behavior can give the perception of higher intelligence, most experts believe that true problem-solving intelligence is based more on the individual cat than it is by breed.

How Smart is Your Cat?

Are you the proud parent of a kitty Einstein? Here’s a quick cat intelligence test you can do at home to help you find out. All you need is a quiet room, a cardboard box, and your kitty’s favorite toy.

To perform the test, allow your kitty to see that you have the toy. Now place the toy behind the box. Does your kitty simply accept that the toy has disappeared, or does it go searching for the toy behind the box?

If your cat goes searching for the toy, it’s demonstrating a solid grasp of object permanence. Humans usually grasp this concept at about one to two years of age. If your kitty passes this test, it is at least as smart as a toddler.

There are also a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine how smart your cat is.

  • Does your cat scratch at the door, begging to go outside, even though you’ve never let it out before? This suggests that your cat has learned the purpose of the door by watching you go in and out.

  • Does your cat use meows and other attention-getting behaviors to get you to feed it at a certain time? This indicates that your kitty understands the concepts of time and cause and effect.

  • Does your cat know how to open the cabinet where you keep his food or treats? This demonstrates problem-solving skills.

What is the IQ of a Cat?

Unfortunately, there is no IQ equivalency test for domestic cats since IQ is based on the average test score of the human population. It simply doesn’t make sense to apply IQ scores to other species.

The Takeaway

The notoriously independent nature of cats can create unique challenges in understanding feline intelligence. While we may never know precisely how smart cats are, it’s clear that they are capable of complex thinking and problem-solving.

Better care,
Right when you need it

Book a visit