My personal experiences inform me that there are cats with learning difficulties. It is to be expected. “Learning difficulties” is a nice term. Another is “educationally disadvantaged”. In the old days people used to use the cruder term “educationally subnormal” or ESN. I am referring to cats that have noticeably lower intelligence.
I realise that “intelligence” is a very easy word to abuse and misuse. Cat intelligence is different to human intelligence. Indeed, even, the classic I.Q. test is misleading for humans.
I need to be sensitive to the difficulties of writing about so called “intelligence”. I also recognise that signs that might indicate a lack of intelligence might be caused by a timid and very shy character, for example.
However, that caveat recognized, I have seen cats that behave in a way that indicate to me that they lack the usual standard in skills and characteristics associated with cats.
In fact, right now I am looking after a cat that I think might have learning difficulties. I could be wrong. Her owner, a very elderly lady, had a fall and has gone to hospital. I wish her the very best by the way. We are looking after her cat. She is a tiny, underweight female. She lacks appetite. We are off to the vet with her asap.
However, she seems to have that slightly confused, glazed over look on her face. It is a face that lacks the usual level of alertness in cats. This may be due to what has happened. I understand that, but I don’t believe it is, in this instance.
I have seen what I would consider to be clear signs of learning difficulties in two purebred cats. One was a blue British Shorthair living in Britain, bred by a British breeder. The other was a Burmese who was also a British bred purebred cat.
Both responded less well to stimulation in any form. They were both somewhat characterless. A list of the characteristics that I would ascribe to a cat that is educationally disadvantaged are:
- slightly confused look on the face
- passive – less active
- less responsive to interaction with people
- tends to lack an emotional response
This is obviously far from a scientific approach. It is just observation. My theory is that inbreeding in purebred cats can affect a cat’s intelligence. Inbreeding can lead to noticeable health issues, some of which are rather vague such as a compromised immune system resulting in illness and a shorter life. A classic example might be the condition referred to as Bengal Nose or HCM in Bengal cats.
Inbreeding cat also result in impaired brain function. This is much less noticeable. For example in the case of the blue British Shorthair, this cat breed is quite passive, quiet and docile anyway. It is difficult to assess brain function through simple observation. This is why cats with learning difficulties go unnoticed.
As far as I am aware, there is almost no work on cat intelligence. There is one semi-anecdotal survey on cat breed intelligence. But when did you last see an article on the internet about cats with learning difficulties?
Funnily enough, Elisa has just mentioned Sealy’s drooling in a comment saying that it might be due to brain damage caused a fan belt injury. There will be quite a lot of articles about brain damage caused by trauma but very little about reduced brain function due to poor breeding or a lack of proper development in the womb.
In the case of the cute little female cat I am currently caring for, her tiny size and low weight may be due to malnourishment as a newborn kitten and/or a lack of proper fetal development in the womb. I don’t know. That is a pure guess and quite a wild guess.
Geriatric cats with dementia – a widely recognised condition amongst veterinarians – will exhibit similar characteristics to cats that have learning difficulties.
I think it is fair to say that in general cat owners don’t think a lot about this topic. People consider all cats to be the same or very similar in respect of intelligence. There may be many cats that have reduced brain function due to the effects of poor nutrition on the fetus or, in the case of pedigree cats, inbreeding due to the breeder striving to create a good looking cat, while paying less attention to health issues.