Are Some Cats Smarter Than Others?

Some cats are smarter than others. I’ll explain why I think that this is a correct assessment. Firstly, the anatomy and physiology of the domestic cat is not that dissimilar from humans. Humans, we know, vary in their intelligence. Therefore, common sense dictates that it is likely that domestic cats will vary in their intelligence. This, I would argue, is the default position.

Please tell me in a comment how smart your cat is.

I think that it would be hard to argue that cats don’t vary in their intelligence if we could prove that dogs vary in their intelligence. As it happens, a recent study about teaching dogs tricks using computer games tells us that dogs do vary in their intelligence. I don’t think we need a study to prove it but it does inject some science into the discussion.

A team trained 130 dogs aged six and over. They were trained to touch (with their noses) a static shape on the screen to release a treat from an attached dispenser. In another game they had to touch a moving shape. In the third game the dogs had to discriminate between two side-by-side images. All the dogs mastered the first two phases. All but two of the dogs could complete the third phase with scores of at least 20/30. Notably, the smartest dogs could do this after only four sessions. The average took 15 half-hour training sessions. This study, which was designed to help diminish dementia in dogs through enhancing their cognitive abilities, unequivocally informs us that dogs do vary in intelligence.

In support of this, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from cat and dog owners. No doubt a lot of it is dubious because cat owners like their cats to be smart. Therefore they are liable to exaggerate the intelligence of their cat or provide an inaccurate assessment.

Nonetheless, first-hand evidence is constantly presented on the Internet. A lot of it relates to purebred, pedigree cats. Although by far the majority of domestic cats are random bred, you will probably find feedback from cat owners in relation to purebred cats more often.

Oriental Shorthair Cat

For example, you’ll probably see Siamese cats coming out on top in terms of intelligence. In addition, there are many associated breeds such as the Oriental Shorthair which arguably are more intelligent than other breeds.

This conveniently brings me to a startling, new snippet of information from Sarah Hartwell, an expert on the cat breeds and cat genetics, in which she tells me that she has uncovered a gem of information about the Oriental breed and Siamese cats. She says that wildcat genes are in the Siamese breed and the Orientals. She says that in the 1960s a Dutch breeder, Maria Falkena-Rohrie, was involved in breeding small wildcats as well as domestic cats and the foundation queen of her Oriental breed was a “Sudanese Desert Cat”. The alert character of this wildcat which looks very similar to domestic cats, was therefore introduced into the Oriental breed. This woman’s Orientals all trace back to a spotted Sudanese cat. This is fascinating information because I’m sure that most breeders of this domestic cat don’t realize that their cats carry some relatively recently acquired wild genes. Wild genes translate to intelligence (see below about wild cat hybrids).

I for one believe that poor selective breeding can negatively impact a cat’s intelligence. If the breeder breeds too tightly (i.e. inbreeds), then I believe there is a possibility that the cat’s cognitive abilities might be impaired. I have seen this in British Shorthairs.

As far as I am aware there have been no direct scientific studies comparing the intelligence of domestic cats. Therefore I have to rely, as I have, on anecdotal evidence and a study concerning dogs.

People have a tendency to put all domestic cat into one basket and see them as the same except for the colour of their coat. But each is an individual with his or her own character and associated levels of intelligence which normally will be very similar but on occasion I think it fair to say that there will be the odd cat who is notably smarter than others. Sometimes they’re able to exercise their intelligence by self-learning tricks such as opening doors and playing fetch etc.. We have seen the videos.

It is said that the high filial wild cat hybrids tend to be smarter than classic random bred domestic cats because it is also said that wild cat species are smaller than domestic cats. They have to be because they’re constantly challenged in terms of survival. This challenging environment trains the brain and improves cognitive abilities. This supports the argument that domestic cats, especially indoor cats, should be constantly challenged intellectually to ward off dementia and improve their lives. Are we dumbing down cats by keeping them indoors?

Hence, the first filial Bengal and Savanna cats are arguably smarter than average. The Siamese, although not a wild cat hybrid, is also known to be smarter. It could be said by the way that there appears to be an association between skinny, interactive and vocal cats and a heightened intelligence particularly when placed in contrast to less active purebred cats such as Persians.

Sudanese Desert Cat: a subspecies of wild cat: Felis silvestris rubida. East African wildcat. There will be various opinions about the classification of the African wildcat. Some might argue that this is a North African wildcat, the ancestor of the domestic cat.

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5 thoughts on “Are Some Cats Smarter Than Others?”

  1. I think this will again lead to judging animals by what humans think are desirable traits which opens the door for unscrupulous breeders if they can claim that a breed of cat they sell is the most intelligent. Why do cats have to be intelligent to us? Enjoy the cat as a cat, a beautiful creation without any human labels that we are lucky enough to have in our universe. This reminds me of parents sitting in the park trying to outdo each other about how smart their kids are and what boarding school they are going to. This is all about human issues of insecurity and pride and conceit. Thank God cats do not have those traits.

  2. I’ll give you one guess as why I named this fella Einstein… Yup, he falls asleep huffing foot stink. When he was younger he’d sit in the middle of the back yard looking around as the other cats played. Didn’t know what to do. He was like “Duh, which way did he go, George?”. Kinda like this:

  3. Using anecdotal observations as an old horse trainer animals vary in intelligence , tolerance and social ability.
    Most importantly intelligence itself does not make one cat smarter but rather their ability to use that intellect. It’s important to now confuse natural instinct with intellect. My observation is some animals have literally flipped the switch somewhere in their brains and ‘think’. I was lucky to spend the first year of Frog and Toad’s life at home where I guided their learning and expanded their ability to problem solve.

    • Hi Debra. It is a subspecies of wild cat: Felis silvestris rubida. East African wildcat. There will be various opinions about the classification of the African wildcat. Some might argue that this is a North African wildcat, the ancestor of the domestic cat.


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