Do cats vary in intelligence?

Yes, domestic cats do vary in intelligence. The same must apply to the wild cats. I can say with confidence, however, that domestic cats vary in intelligence based upon tests carried out on dogs. I know that is not what you want to hear but we are reliant on dog studies sometimes to extrapolate i.e. work out what may be happening with cats. We have to do this because so many studies are conducted with domestic dogs in preference to domestic cats because they’re much easier to work with. The second reason why I can write this with confidence is because common sense dictates that cats vary in intelligence like people. They can be no logical reason why cats should not vary in intelligence as humans. The physiology of cats and humans is similar, we are both mammals with broadly the same anatomy at a fundamental level.


Whisky, an intelligent border collie. Photo: Claudia Fugazza.

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A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports tested the intelligence and memory of two domestic dogs with known high IQs. One of them, Vicky Nina, is now deceased and at the time she was a media sensation with a remarkable memory. She came from Brazil. The other canine with a mega-brain is still living and his name is Whisky. Whisky is a border collie from Norway.

The researchers concluded that these dogs had a similar intelligence and ability to memorise language as a 3-4 year-old child. They were presented with a new toy and the human mentioned the name of the toy four times. They then placed the toy amongst many other objects and asked them to retrieve it by name. They were able to do so. The researchers concluded that they had learned this ability quickly but decided that it was rare among canines.

Chocolate point modern Siamese with unusual markings and a snow white coat

Chocolate point modern Siamese with unusual markings and a snow white coat. Siamese cats are said to be intelligent in general but it must be measured on a individual by individual basis. Photo in public domain.

Dr Fugazza, a co-author of the study and one of the researchers, said that Whisky was a gifted dog and unsual. Whisky is four years old and Vicky Nina was nine when she carried out the experiments. They took place in 2018. It appears that their memories faded quite quickly but the researchers decided that if they played several times their memories would have been extended.

There appears to be two conclusions that we can take from this research, (1) there is quite a strong variability in intelligence among domestic dogs and therefore I conclude the same must apply to domestic cats, (2) the intelligence of the more intelligent dogs is similar to that of human children, in terms of acquiring vocabulary, who are in the age group 2-3 years of age.

The other co-author is Adam Miklósi, head of the department of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest at which the study took place, as I understand it.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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1 Response

  1. Cat's Meow says:

    From personal experience, having raised many of them over the years, Border Collies are very intelligent! Therefore, it is NOT RARE that they can learn words and associate them with objects. The reason Whisky and Vicky Nina “lost their intelligence” is because the words were not used on a daily basis. I guarantee that if you conduct the same test today, Whisky would only take a couple of moments before retrieving the exact object asked for.

    Our most recent BC was able to smell round. She could find any ball, disk, frisbee, etc., that had a round shape. We could take her visiting (she never met a stranger) and if there was any round object that could be played with in the vicinity, she would find it, even if she had to dig it up.

    In the same manner, cats are also very intelligent. Some more so than others possibly due to genetics and also environmental experiences. Many years ago, I rescued six-month-old Alfalfa from a Walmart parking lot. He would only come out from under my car if I was standing beside it. Once I got in, he went back underneath. I was afraid of killing him, so I took him home. His mental development seemed delayed, possibly as a result of the trauma from being abandoned/lost.

    Alfalfa was welcomed by Arnold, a shelter rescue, who was about six months older. They got alone beautifully. After about six months or so, my husband watched Arnold teach Alf how to catch mice. One had gotten into the house, and Arnold caught it. He carried it over to where Alf was sitting, would let go, then hold it in his hands, encouraging Alf to do the same. It was endearing to know that they had such a great bond.

    There are many more stories to confirm that cats are highly intelligent, but not enough time to write them all here. Any one who doesn’t live with them will never understand the high level of intellect given to cats, regardless of the amount in each individual.

    Bottom line: Cats are Smart!
    Need Proof: How many other animals have servants?

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