If you’ve constantly been amazed by your cat’s intelligence, at some point in time, you must have asked yourself: how big is a cat’s brain? But even if their brains aren’t as big as ours, cats are nevertheless very intelligent creatures, right?
Knowing how big your pet’s brain isn’t just all about curiosity. It’s also about knowing how your cat’s mind actually works. And it’s also about knowing what diseases can affect your pet’s cognitive functions when your cat grows old.
In this article, we’ll first talk about the physical structure and dimensions of a cat’s brain. Then, we’ll give you some interesting facts about how feline brains work. We’ll then take a look at some examples of cognitive impairments your cat may suffer from when she grows old. Lastly, we’ll give you some tips on how to better care for your pet’s mental health.
The Physical Structure of Feline Brains
No matter how big your cat is, your pet’s brain is actually quite small. In length, it’s only about a couple of inches or five centimeters. Feline brains weigh around 25 to 30 grams only. This isn’t even 1% of your pet’s total body mass.
If you compare the brain of a domestic cat to that of humans, ours are certainly much bigger, weighing more than 2% of the average human body mass. However, this doesn’t mean that your cat’s brain can contain and process only a small amount of information.
If you measure the surface area of an average cat’s cerebral cortex, it’s only around 13 inches squared. Humans, on the other hand, have an average brain surface area of around 390 inches squared.
Despite the huge difference in size, the physical structure of feline brains is actually very similar to that of ours. We both have the part of the brain that’s called the cerebral cortex, where most information processing occurs. Just like in humans, the cerebral cortex in a cat’s brain is also divided into lobes.
Studies on feline brains show that a cat’s brain is actually divided into various specialized areas. Although these brain areas have specialized tasks and functions, they are also extremely interconnected.
This kind of interconnection enables cats to construct and process a very complex perception of the world. This also enables cats to react well to their environment. In short, this is the reason why your cat is able to hunt, learn tricks, open cupboards and cabinets, and become excited when you come home from work.
Interesting Facts about the Feline Brain
Pet owners often find it unbelievable how smart their cats are. The reason why cats are so intelligent is that their brains are actually very complex and work in amazing ways. Here are some fun facts about the brains of cats.
#1: Feline brains are structurally more complex than canine brains
This isn’t to say that cats are definitely smarter than dogs, although many cat parents would attest to that. It’s just that cats have almost double the number of nerve cells in their cerebral cortex compared to dogs.
Canines have approximately 160 million nerve cells in their cerebral cortex. Cats, on the other hand, have around 300 million.
Considering that the cerebral cortex is the center of thinking and decision-making, this may explain why some cats are better at working out puzzles and fending for themselves compared to some dogs.
See Also: Cat Puzzle Feeder
#2: Compared to dogs, cats have better short-term memory
According to research, the short-term memory of cats can last up to 16 hours, whereas the short-term memory of dogs doesn’t even last for an hour. This means that your cat can remember what she saw, heard, felt, or sensed within the last sixteen hours.
#3: Cats are very observant, and that’s how they learn
If you notice your cat observing every little thing that you do, that’s because your pet learns through observation. If your cat often sees you opening the cabinet to take out a can of pet food, it’s highly likely that your cat will learn how to open the cabinet, too.
This is the same way that kittens learn from their mothers. Whatever they see their mother doing, kittens will follow the behavior and learn it after numerous repetitions.
#4: Cats can also suffer from cognitive decline
Although cats have excellent long-term memory, unfortunately, elderly cats can also fall prey to age-related cognitive decline and start forgetting things that they have long learned. This is similar to how humans develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of cognitive decline in a cat include disorientation. Cats who used to be very playful and interactive may suddenly develop antisocial behaviors, hiding themselves away from others. Cats may also develop depression.
See Also: How to Help a Depressed Cat
Inappropriate defecation and urination are also common symptoms of feline cognitive decline. For instance, an elderly cat may no longer use her litter box and will just urinate or defecate anywhere in the house.
#5: Cats can understand simple human body language
It’s not that cats are able to understand the words we say to them, but rather, they can pick up and learn the signs that we give them.
For instance, when you point to your pet’s water bowl and tell your cat to drink, your cat can actually follow your pointing gesture.
#6: Cats understand the concept of object permanence
When you put your stuff away like when you put your washed clothes in your cabinet, you know that your clothes still do exist inside your cabinet even if you can’t see them anymore after you close your cabinet.
Cats understand this concept, too. They know that if you put their toy away, the toy doesn’t cease to exist and that they can just find the toy later or wait for you to give the toy to them.
This is one of the reasons why cats are such great hunters. Even if their prey hides, they know that the prey is still somewhere out there.
#7: Cats can somehow tell time
Well, they don’t really know the exact time of the day, rather, they have a sense of how much time has already elapsed. You might have noticed that your pet seems to know it’s breakfast or dinner time already. That’s because cats are able to form and understand the concept of time.
Cognitive Impairment in Cats
Just like in humans, cats can also suffer from cognitive impairment when they grow old.
#1: Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD)
In cats that are aged 11 to 15 years, feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is common. This is a neurological disorder that is very similar to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in humans.
Just like humans who suffer from dementia, cats with FCD can also become forgetful. What’s heartbreaking is that your pet may no longer recognize you, in the same way that elderly people with dementia no longer recognize their own family members.
It’s also common for a cat with FCD to become disoriented or confused. You may wonder how your cat can get lost inside your own house, but that can happen if your pet’s brain is already failing.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome in cats can also cause a lot of behavioral changes in your pet. For instance, your pet may become extremely restless or anxious, continuously pacing or moving about without any real direction or purpose.
Your pet may also become extremely irritable. Decreased desire for play or for interaction with humans and other pets is also common in cats with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
It’s also common for a cat with feline cognitive dysfunction to forget what to do with the litterbox. Hence, you may need to clean up after your cat as your pet will continue to have litterbox accidents.
#2: Neurological Condition
Unfortunately, feline cognitive dysfunction is not the only thing that can cause cognitive impairments in cats. Your pet may suffer from a neurological condition, making it difficult for your cat to sense what’s going on around her.
In cats, brain disorders and neurological conditions may be caused by traumatic injuries and not just because of old age. Infections and birth defects can also lead to various neurological conditions.
The most common causes of neurological conditions in cats include chemical poisoning, insect bites, and viral or bacterial infections. The symptoms will depend on the type of brain disorder or neurological condition your pet is suffering from.
For instance, your pet may suffer from a loss of balance. Cats are naturally graceful. However, cats with a neurological condition may stagger or stumble often as they lose their sense of balance.
Along with losing their sense of balance, they may also show a lack of coordination. They may also exhibit tremors, weakness, stupor, and even lose their sense of smell. Some neurological conditions can also cause blindness and seizures in cats.
The treatment of the brain disorder will also vary, depending on what caused the condition. For instance, if your pet is having seizures, your vet may prescribe anticonvulsants. If the neurological condition is caused by a bacterial infection, your vet may give your cat some antibiotics.
If, on the other hand, the brain disorder was caused by a tumor, your vet may recommend performing surgery on your cat. However, if the condition is no longer treatable or potentially fatal, your vet may suggest comfort measures for your pet.
Taking Care of Your Cat’s Mental Health
There are many ways that you can help maintain your cat’s mental health. Even if your cat is already quite old, it doesn’t mean that she will automatically develop a brain disorder or neurological condition.
Here are some tips to help you take care of your pet’s mental health.
#1: Daily play and exercise
Keeping your pet active is one of the things you do to help your cat stay mentally fit. Just like in humans, cats also need to exercise their muscles and their brains. Making your cat exercise while playing is one way to do this.
See Also: How to Play with Your Cat
#2: Work for food
Another way to motivate your pet to move around is to place your pet’s food bowl at the top of the cat tree. If you don’t have a cat tree, you can simply place the food bowl at the top of the stairs.
The idea is to make your cat move in order to get to her food. Overweight and sedentary cats often just sleep next to their food bowls because they’re too lazy to move. You want to avoid that for your pet.
#3: Visual stimulation
Cats thrive on observing what’s going on around them. Similar to how humans are entertained and learn something new from watching TV, cats can also benefit from visual stimulation.
For instance, if your cat loves to lounge by the window, you can place a birdbath outside the window so that your cat can have the pleasure of watching the birds play in the birdbath.
See Also: Cat Window Box DIY
#4: Obstacle courses
Cats are naturally great at solving puzzles and going through obstacle courses. If you can set up one inside your home and this can help your cat jump, explore, run, and climb, then you’ll be able to make sure that your cat stays physically and mentally active.
#5: Puzzles, puzzles, puzzles
One way to keep your cat mentally sharp is by regularly giving your pet puzzles to solve. Cats are actually very intelligent, and they do have fun with puzzles.
You can also hide your pet’s food in various hiding places such that your cat will need to figure out how to get to the food.
#6: Healthy diet
When you give your cat a cognitive support diet, you’re actually helping your pet to stay mentally healthy. Cognitive support diets for cats contain nutrients that help improve your pet’s memory, learning, attention, and problem-solving skills.
You can give your cat foods that are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, taurine, and vitamins. Just like humans, cats are unable to produce omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies naturally. Because omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for proper brain functioning, you’ll need to make sure that your pet is eating food that contains these essential nutrients.
Cats also need omega-6 fatty acids and taurine. Taurine is important for brain development, and it also plays an important role in keeping your cat’s vision healthy. Cats that are fed with taurine-deficient diets can develop eye problems, even blindness.
Your pet will also need choline, a nutrient that is crucial for the proper functioning of your pet’s nervous system. In fact, in cats that are suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction and seizures, supplementation with choline is actually part of the therapy.
Please share your experience with us. Feel free to leave your questions, comments, and suggestions. You might also be interested in knowing how to teach your cat some tricks.