BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Why Cats are Smarter Than Dogs: Testing Your Cat’s Intelligence

Why Cats are Smarter Than Dogs
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

If you’ve ever walked in on your cat while she’s in the middle of making a huge mess, then you must think that people who believe cats are smart are crazy. A situation like that would probably make you think cats are definitely dumb. But would you believe that there are actually many reasons why cats are smarter than dogs?

Your feline pet may not show it all the time, but cats are actually very smart animals. Knowing just how smart your cat is will help you understand your cat better. And if you’ve ever thought about training your cats to do tricks, it will also help you gauge your pet’s potential.

In this article, we’ll first talk about how cat brains compare to canine brains. We will then take a closer look at how cat brains are structured. And then we’ll talk about cat intelligence. We’ll also give you some tips on how to test your cat’s intelligence. Lastly, we’ll talk about some of the things cats do just to show you they are smart and have a complete understanding of the situation.

Cats vs. Dogs – Brains Compared

dog's brain

If we were to use the number of neurons or brain cells as the sole indicator of intelligence, then dog lovers would be able to definitively claim that dogs are smarter than cats.

Research has shown that dogs have around 530 million neurons, whereas cats only have less than half of that at around 250 million neurons. To put it in perspective, humans have approximately 16 billion neurons.

Scientists believe that the number of neurons you have in your brain, most especially in your cerebral cortex, indicates the potential richness of your mental state and predicts how intelligent you can be.

If we base it on the number of neurons alone, then it would seem that dogs really do have more brain power. However, it doesn’t seem to be the end of the debate yet. For one, comparing intelligence between different species is quite difficult.

There’s also the fact that cats often do things their own way, at their own time. This means that scientists find it difficult to work with cats, which is why there are fewer studies on cat intelligence compared to the number of canine studies available.

Imagine setting up a complex maze that’s supposed to test your cat’s intelligence, only to have your pet throw a single bored look at the setup and walking away. That kind of cat-titude simply makes it difficult for scientists to measure cat intelligence accurately.

A Look at Feline Brains

cat's brain

A cat’s brain is actually quite small, making up just about less than one percent of their total body mass. It’s approximately two inches long and weighs only around 30 grams. In comparison, a dog’s brain weighs around 70 grams while a human brain is around 1,300 to 1,400 grams in weight.

A cat’s brain also has curls and folds like that of a human brain. Experts say that the average surface area of the feline cerebral cortex is around 13 inches squared. Human brains, on the other hand, have an average surface area of approximately 390 inches squared.

A cat’s brain is also structured similarly to human brains. Feline brains also contain a cerebral cortex, thalamus, a hippocampus, an amygdala, a frontal lobe, and a mid-brain.

What’s amazing about the way a cat’s brain is structured is that it’s divided into various areas of specialization. If you can picture a hub with many spokes, that’s how a cat’s brain is organized. The sensory information from the various spokes is processed in the hub.

This means that a cat is able to organize various stimuli from their environment and process them to form a clear but complex picture. This enables cats to relate with and manipulate their environment in a sophisticated manner.

What the Feline Brain is Capable Of

Just when you think your feline pet is truly devoid of any intelligence, she suddenly does something that blows your mind away. Cats often do things like this, perhaps just to remind us that they’re actually smart but they’re just too lazy to tell us about it. Or maybe cats just don’t care at all whether we think they’re dumb or smart.

In truth, cats are quite intelligent, and in many ways. Intelligence refers to one’s ability to experience something and learn from it, and to retain that learning as well as to use that knowledge in order to solve problems.

#1: Observation by Doing

orange cat watching

Cats are very observant, and whatever they learn through observation, they try to follow. At least, if they feel like it. That’s why cat owners have to be careful about the things they do in front of their pets. Cats can actually remember and learn the “what” and “where” from just a single experience.

This means that once your cat sees you putting away her favorite toy in a drawer, then that knowledge sticks in her mind. She now knows that particular toy is in that particular drawer. Once she sees you opening that drawer, then if your pet feels like it, she can try opening that same drawer to take out her favorite toy. Or snack.

#2: Object Permanence Recognition

The concept of object permanence simply means that you know something continues to exist when you’re not able to perceive it at the moment. Cats know this, too. Just like the way they know that their favorite snack still exists in that drawer where you hid it.

You may have heard of stories about cats rummaging through their owner’s purse looking for something. Or you may have seen your pet open the cabinet where you store her food. That’s because your pet knows the food is there even if it’s hidden from her sight.

#3: Cats Have Great Procedural Memories

cat opening door

If you’ve ever wondered how your cat ever learned how to open the faucet or the cabinet, that’s because felines naturally have excellent procedural memories.

This means that once they observe the process of how something is done, like how a light switch is turned on or how a door is opened, then they can follow the steps. What’s even amazing is that this kind of learning and memory can stay with cats for ten years or even longer.

So if you haven’t seen your cat opening a cabinet even though you’ve done it in front of your pet millions of times already, it doesn’t mean that your cat is too dumb to do it. It simply means that your pet hasn’t found a worthy reason yet why she should exert any effort at all just to open that cabinet door.

#4: Memory Associated with Emotions

Although it’s a great thing that cats actually have excellent long-term memories, there’s actually something sad about it. To remember an event or a place, cats associate that event or place with how they felt when that event happened or when they were in that location.

This means that the memories of traumatic and painful experiences actually last for years with cats. On a side note, this is one of the reasons why your cat’s first bathing experience should be associated with positive and pleasurable memories. Otherwise, your cat will remember for decades that bathing is a traumatic experience.

See Also: How to Make Your Cat Happy

Testing Your Pet’s Intelligence

testing cat's intelligence

You can give a human being a piece of test paper and tell him to answer the test, and you can then measure how intelligent the human is. You can’t do that with cats, though.

Even scientists find it hard to test how intelligent a cat is, simply because cats have other things on their minds and they don’t really like doing something just because a human tells them to do it.

Nevertheless, at home, there are some simple tests you can try on your cat to get an idea of how well your cat can grasp the situation. If you don’t get the results you want, there’s no need to worry. It doesn’t mean your pet isn’t smart. It could be that your pet just isn’t interested at all.

#1: Hide a Treat

Place a treat on the floor in plain view of your cat. Then cover the treat with a box or a can. Observe how your cat will react. If your cat turns the box or can over to get the treat, it means that your cat understands that the treat is there, hidden under the box.

Most likely, though, your cat will simply give you a bored look and completely ignore the can or box. That means your pet isn’t interested at the moment. She’ll probably deal with the treat once she starts feeling hungry, so just leave the can or box unturned.

#2: Pull the String

In front of your cat, tie a string around a treat and then hide the treat under your sofa or couch. Then place the other end of the string near your cat. Observe how your cat will try to get the treat.

You may need to show your cat how to pull the string to get to the treat. Don’t be disappointed if that happens. Cats usually need to be able to observe something being done at least once for them to learn what to do. Some cats can figure it out quite quickly though and will pull the string even without being shown how to do it.

#3: Block the Treat

Place a treat on the floor a few feet away from where your cat is lounging. Then place a barrier between your cat and the treat. Try to use two boxes placed side to side, with a 2 to 3 inches gap in between. Observe how your cat will get the treat.

If your pet feels like it, she’ll probably stand up and walk around the barrier to get to the treat. If she’s feeling a little lazy, she may just crawl up to the barrier and try to reach the treat with her paw through the gap. Or if she’s not interested at all, she may just try going back to sleep.

Smart Things Cats Do

Testing your pet’s IQ is never an easy thing, especially if your furry friend is a bit on the lazy side. Or if your cat is quite aloof and not too sociable. Nevertheless, there are still many things that cats do to let us know that they’re full of smarts, too. Here are a few.

#1: Waking You Up When It’s Breakfast Time

cat waking up

Sleeping in during the weekends usually isn’t an option for many cat parents. That’s because cats who are used to having breakfast at around the same time every day usually wake up their cat parents so that they can have breakfast. Cats can actually tell when it’s time for something, like breakfast.

#2: Waiting for You to Come Home

Again, because cats know when it’s time for something to happen, they usually know when their owners are supposed to be home already. If you come home at around the same time every day, you’ve probably noticed your cat waiting for you.

#3: Using Their Paws and Mouth to Manipulate an Object

gray cat using her paws

Cats excel at manipulating objects in their environment. Try placing a treat just out of your cat’s reach and see how your pet uses her paws, and maybe even her mouth, just to get to the treat.

#4: When the Litter Box is Full

Does your cat have a special way of telling you that the litter box needs to be cleaned? This may be something many cat owners take for granted, but it’s actually a sign of cat intelligence. Your cat is communicating with you and telling you that you need to clean her litter box.

#5: Knowing Who’s Bad

evil orange cat

If your cat is treating a guest in your home as if that person is the devil incarnate, try to remember if that person pestered or teased your pet the last time he or she visited your home. Even if that happened years ago, you may be surprised to know that your cat still remembers that experience with that person.

#6: Lets You Know Where She Wants to be Stroked

Cats know how to use their voice and body to let you know what they want. If you’ve ever experienced having your cat nudge your hand on top of her belly while purring, then you know that your pet knows exactly how to tell you where she wants to be stroked.

See Also: How to Show Your Cat You Love Them

Wrap Up

smart kitten reading books

What has your feline pet done lately to make you think that she’s extremely smart? It may not be something on a grand scale like riding the bus on her own. It could be something as simple as turning on the faucet or welcoming you home.

Do let us know about your experience with intelligent cats. Please share your comments and suggestions, and if you would like to explore this topic more, check out our article on how smart are cats.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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