Can domestic cats be mentally challenged?

Cat intelligence
Cat intelligence. Image: PoC based on images an image in the public domain.
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Can domestic cats be mentally challenged or in ruder language ‘retarded’? I believe that in order to answer the question it might be useful to divide the domestic cat into two groups: the random bred cats i.e. moggies and the purebred, pedigree cats that you normally buy from a breeder.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

There is a condition causing mental impairment called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) which can, according to my research, be caused by inbreeding due to artificial selection aka selective breeding. It is also called feline cognitive impairment or cognitive decline. It is usually associated with elderly cats in the same way elderly people can suffer from cognitive decline (dementia) but some experts believe that inbreeding can also cause it.

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This is supported by CDS in humans due to consanguine marriage (marriage between individuals who are closely related). Children of parent-child or sibling with sibling mattings can suffer from lower intelligence quotient levels and higher incidence rates of being affected by an intellectual disability. There may also be physical defects due to the deleterious, mutated recessive genes which make their presence known when there is inbreeding. You see this in purebred cats with undershot jaws as a typical example.

Picture of an ugly cat
This is a picture of an ugly cat which is sad and no fault of the cat. The breed is the Exotic Shorthair. The breeding has gone wrong quite dramatically as the upper and lower jaws are misaligned badly. You can see tear duct overflow down the sides of the nose because the tear ducts are blocked once again due to the breeding. It would not surprise me if this cat suffered from mild CDS. The picture is in the public domain.


Under normal circumstances you won’t find any individual random bred cats that are mentally challenged because by and large they procreate through natural selection to a large extent by which I mean breeders are not involved. Yes, there are occasional informal cat breeders but this is not selective breeding. Selective breeding means inbreeding to fix physical characteristics to match the breed standard.

No selective breeding for moggies helps these cats to retain good physical and mental health from genetic diversity.

Purebred cats

This is a reference to the cat breeds. All of them. They are all created through selective breeding which is inbreeding as mentioned. So, the conclusion is that, rarely, some purebred cats might suffer from CDS if the breeder has overdone selective breeding and bred her cats too ‘closely’ meaning too much inbreeding with a high coefficient of inbreeding (COI). Extreme breeding can also compromise health generally and shorten lifespan.

How can you tell if a cat is mentally challenged?

Well, I’d like to chip in here if I may. My late mother bought a couple of British Shorthair cats which to my mind were cognitively challenged as they were unresponsive, not really able to engage and showed a sluggish demeanour.

CDS can be manifested in confusion, decreased responsiveness, and decreased ability to recognize familiar people or surroundings.


Elderly cats – either moggie or pedigree – can be mentally challenged. Some younger pedigree cats can also (rarely) be mentally challenged if inbred to extreme in my view. I would also expect there to be some variation in intelligence among domestic cats. But the cats at the lower end of intelligence will be not be suffering from CDS. But they will probably be less responsive and engaging.

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