True feral cats are smarter than domestic cats. This gives them an advantage in survival. I’m thinking here of the true Australian feral cat living in the outback and surviving on an abundance of marsupials and small mammals that are native to that continent. It is said that the feral cats of Australia have become bigger and have almost developed into a unique and distinguishable, new wild cat species. By ‘true feral cat’ I means generations of feral cats that have always lived in the ‘wild’.
I feel I need to mention true feral cats because a study on the brain size of domestic cats and their wild ancestor the North African wildcat, did not refer to true feral cats. They mentioned the true domestic cat in comparison with the current African wildcat, and they mentioned the wildcat hybrids, an intermediary, but no mention of feral cats.
The researchers concluded that “domestic cats have significantly smaller cranial volumes than those of European wildcats and African wildcats. We further found that hybrids of domestic cats and European wildcats have cranial volumes that cluster between those of the two parent species.”
So wildcat hybrids are in between domestic cats and wildcats in terms of intelligence. That’s the finding as I interpret it. And domestic cats are the least intelligent of these three types of cat while the true African wildcats are the most intelligent, in this cohort.
A problem with this study is that the researchers could not, of course, study the true ancestor of the domestic cat because they were living 10,000 years ago. Therefore, they had to study current wildcats but they might not be the same as those living 10,000 years ago. Notwithstanding this caveat the conclusion is pretty clear.
I’ve made the assumption that the bigger the brain, the more intelligently cat. The researchers have also made that assumption it seems to me.
And the reason why domestic cats are less intelligent is because they are so comprehensively cared for in good homes. They are not mentally challenged. They don’t have to deal with threats to their survival. They’re cosseted and treated like kittens with their human caregiver being their mothers. The don’t have to think their way through life-threatening problems. I’ve made the point 😊.
It is an accepted anatomical developmental process that when the brain is challenged it’s going to develop better and this applies to people as well as animals. It’s the reason why it is sensible for elderly people to constantly challenge their minds, to exercise their minds, to help delay the onset of cognitive decline.
To me, the findings have a relevancy in respect of feral cats. If the true feral cat is smart, they will be more difficult to eradicate. Personally, I don’t want eradicate them but a lot of people do particularly the Australian administration. But on that vast continent, in that dramatically underpopulated central area, there are many feral cats, they believe. And they are going to be true, willy feral cats, well able to survive even against the best efforts of humankind to eradicate them.
Perhaps the Australian administration should bear this in mind and genuinely discuss the possibility of instigating more humane methods of dealing with them because the blunt concept of mass extermination ain’t going to work.
The study: Cranial volume and palate length of cats, Felis spp., under domestication, hybridization and in wild populations.
There are some more articles on brains and intelligence below.