Just How Smart Are Cats?

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It's well known that cats are clever, perhaps even devious creatures, but just how smart are cats?

According to scientists, it's not your imagination: Cats are far more intelligent than you may realize and far more stubborn.

What's Going on in Her Brain?

You only have to observe cats for a short time to recognize that they're highly intelligent beings. Cats have smaller brains compared to dogs, but Dr. Lorie Huston for PetMD explains, "relative brain size isn't always the best indicator of intelligence. And the cat brain shares some amazing similarities with our own brains." For example, Huston elaborates, each part of a cat's brain is compartmentalized, specialized and connected to the others, allowing cats to understand, respond to and even manipulate their surroundings.

And as noted in Psychology Today by Dr. Berit Brogaard, "cats have more nerve cells in the visual areas of their brain, a part of the cerebral cortex [the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, planning, memory, and language-processing], than humans and most other mammals." That's why, for instance, your cat races from one end of the house to the other chasing a speck of dust that you don't even see. She's on a mission.

Tabby kitten jumping on bed as if pouncing on something.

In addition to having top-notch vision, a cat's memory, both long-term and short-term, is impeccable, which you know if your fur baby gives you the evil-eye when you pack your suitcase. She remembers the last time you left the house with that suitcase you were gone for ages and she isn't happy about it.

What Does Science Say?

Another sign of cat smarts: refusing to participate in research studies in the first place.

David Grimm writes in Slate that two leading animal researchers with whom he has spoken with about cat intelligence have had great difficulty working with their subjects because cats simply wouldn't participate in the experiments or didn't follow instructions. Leading animal researcher Dr. Ádám Miklósi even had to go to cats' homes to work because the kitties were so uncooperative in his lab. However, the more they learn about cats, the more scientists will be willing to give it a try. It's just a matter of getting the cats to follow commands, which clearly is very complicated.

Who's Smarter? Cats or Dogs?

So, the age-old question remains: Which animal is smarter, a cat or a dog?

It depends on who you ask. Dogs have been domesticated far longer than cats, are more "trainable" and are more social creatures, but this doesn't mean cats aren't as intelligent as dogs. It's impossible to know for sure because cats are so tricky to study in the first place.


Dr. Miklósi, who typically studies dogs, discovered that like their canine counterparts, cats have the ability to understand what other animals, including humans, are communicating to them. Dr. Miklósi also determined that cats don't ask their pet parents for help as much as dogs do, mainly because cats aren't as "tuned in" to humans as pups are. "They're surfing other channels on the dial," says Grimm, "and that's ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds may forever be a black box." Isn't it exactly this mysterious nature of cats that makes the animals so compelling?

It may take some time before scientists can more specifically answer the question, how smart are cats? What is known is that cats are impatient, they have strong cognitive decision-making skills, and they will walk away from you if they find you boring. In fact, they're pretty good at taking your ego down a few notches.

But if a cat loves you, she loves you forever. With a good understanding of your cat's intelligence, the two of you can form a strong bond for many years to come.

Want to test your feline friend's smarts? Take Petcha's Cat Intelligence Quiz!

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien Contributor Bio Photo

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer and long-time cat mom. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @brovelliobrien.

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