How Smart Are Cats?

Cats have a reputation for being aloof creatures who meow to their own tune. When it comes to cat intelligence, research is rather limited and still lags behind canine intelligence studies. However, there are animal cognition experts and scientists who are determined to find answers to the question, “How smart are cats?”

Learn more about how cat’s brains work, breeds that are known for their intelligence, and what the research says about whether cats are smarter than dogs!

How Cats’ Brains Work

The brain of a cat is remarkably similar to that of a human. Comparing a human brain with a cat’s, Dr. Lorie Houston, a veterinarian for PetMD stated, “The brains of cats have a surface folding and structure that is very similar to that of the human brain, about 90 percent similar to be more exact. Morphologically, both cat brains and human brains have cerebral cortices with similar lobes.”

Orange tabby cat with black glasses, sitting on chair with book.

Dr. Lorie Houston further explains that what contributes to a cat’s intelligence is the way its brain is separated into different compartments to carry out specialized tasks. These areas are interconnected and share information at an expeditious rate. The communication that goes on between the different areas of the brain is what enables a cat to perceive, understand and respond to its surroundings.

Scientific Facts That Prove Cats Are Smart!

While many researchers are perplexed as to how a cat’s mind works, it has provided us with some evidence that proves that cats are clever. Whether we’re taking a look at the complexity of cats’ brains, their social skills, or their ability to survive in the wild, these furry felines we call friends have a lot to offer when it comes to their minds.

Brain Complexity

A feline brain makes up just 0.9% of its weight in comparison with dogs whose brains make up 1.2% of its weight and human’s 2%. A cat’s brain can seem quite small. However, a closer study of the cat’s brain reveals that cats demonstrate abilities that can only be credited to their brain power. After investigating the number of neurons cats have in their brains, neurologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel noted that cats have about 250 million neurons in their cerebral cortexes. A cat’s cerebral cortex is much like a human cortex in that it’s responsible for many of their higher-level processes and without it, they would be lacking in intelligence.

Good Short-Term Memory

2006 study was carried out to test cats’ short-term memory. Trainers taught these cats to find objects in various places and then gave them a specific amount of time to find those objects. The results of the study showed that cats could successfully locate the object within the time frame of 60 seconds. Another study took a deeper look into feline incidentally encoded memory. The conductors of the study stated that the cats were able to retrieve and utilize “‘what’ and ‘where’ information from an incidentally encoded memory from a single experience.” From these scientific studies, we learn that cats can remember their experiences and use that information to make decisions.

Social Skills

Many assume that cats are smart due to their independent natures. Dogs are quite needy and rely on their owner for affirmation and love. On the other hand, cats know their worth and don’t need to be told that they’re good kitties. What does this tell us about a cat’s intelligence?

Tabby cat sitting on a table and reaching its paw to high five a human hand.

Kristyn Vitale, an animal behavior educator, and researcher conducted a study where 55 cats were given the option of choosing between food, toys, and human interaction. More than 50% of the cats chose human interaction over toys and food. While the study did highlight that cats can make decisions which do shed some light on their intelligence, the results were not conclusive.

Interpreting Emotions

One study focused on emotion recognition in cats proves that cats can interpret human emotions. The study was aimed at “investigating cats’ spontaneous ability to match acoustic and visual signals for the recognition of both conspecific and human emotions.” The results of the study showed that cats were able to match human emotions with a visual representation of that emotion, especially if it was highly intense. This research assures us of a cat’s ability to understand how we as humans feel and to react accordingly.



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