What are the smartest things that a domestic cat has done?

Cats have their own type of intelligence. Of course, is different to ours but in their own way they are intuitively and instinctively smart. And it must be said that they are good learners by observation. They learn by observing us and indeed copying us sometimes. Their lives are so integrated into ours that this is bound to happen particularly as they regard us in many instances as their surrogate mums. It’s about kittens learning from their mothers which is exactly what happens in the wild.

Smart domestic cats.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Here are some examples of smart things that a domestic cat has done. There will be others and I’d like to think that some readers will share in comments.

Alarm clock kitty. ‘Bear’ was a cat who didn’t like his owner’s alarm clock. He turned it off by batting it with his paws. And at 7 am which was breakfast time in the household he would then bat his owner around the face to wake up them and remind them that it was time get up and feed him. This cat learned how to stop the production of sound from a human object, which he didn’t like, and then forcefully encourage his owner to feed him. The latter is quite a common feline behaviour. You must have seen videos of domestic cats waking up their owners in all manner of means. My female cat used to prick my nose with the claw of one of her toes. She would extend one particular claw and not the others and just pick at my nose to wake me up. Obviously, it worked. I’ve still got the scars to prove it.

Cat wakes up owner by nipping their nose
Cat wakes up owner by nipping their nose. Screenshot.

Cats do this because throughout the night – a long eight hours – they are alone and their caregiver is doing nothing. They might even seem to be dead to their cat. And cats can be active during the night and the day. In general, as you know they are more active during dawn and dusk (crepuscular) but their behaviour is sometimes incorrectly described as nocturnal. Many indoor/outdoor cats are predominantly nocturnal but it is not general behaviour.

And they want their human to be active when they are active. And humans are not in sync with their cat. Our circadian rhythms are different. It’s a clash of personalities and behaviours which forces the cat to take steps to make their owners do things which suits them.

Missy, a recently adopted cat, woke up their owner when their owner’s three-year-old girl with special needs was in respiratory distress. I believe that the girl was then taken to hospital where she fully recovered.

You might remember Oscar a hospice cat who, it is believed, was able to detect when a patient was dying and living their last moments. He would jump on the bed to comfort them. This would indicate an instinctive intelligence, a perception, perhaps through odours emitted from the person which allowed the cat to understand when they were dying. A lot of feline behaviours originate in their sharp senses; auditory and olfactory.

RELATED: A cat’s cunning or coincidence? Trapping birds or likes to eat bird seed?

Now, everybody has seen doorknob kitties. Those agile and intelligent feline creatures who open the doors of rooms and fridges. Another example of cats learning from humans. And cats aren’t impressed by close doors. In fact, domestic cats don’t understand doors because they don’t exist in the wild and domestic cat behaviour is always inherited from their wild cat ancestors. It’s been modified by 10,000 years of domestication but the fundamentals are still there.

Mulder opening door
Mulder opening door

The way cats open doors is normally to jump up and hang on the handle which pulls it down and the door swings opens. Sometimes a second cat pulls the door open and wriggles through as the cats work in tandem. More intelligence. Clearly this method requires a handle rather than a knob which could be far more challenging.

Drinking from tap kitties. This is a version of doorknob kitties. Once again cats learn that we use hand basins and turn on the tap. I’ve seen examples of domestic cat turning on taps to drink from water dripping from the tap attached to a hand basin in the bathroom. Same difference to opening doors. And domestic cats, as you know, like to drink from flowing water because it tastes fresher and it appeals to their wild cat instincts.

Extreme version of cat drinks out of faucet, looking for running water
Extreme version of cat drinks out of faucet, looking for running water. Photo: Pinterest

Another not uncommon domestic cat or stray cat behaviour is to see them go up to a home which they think is safe and asked to be let in to join the family. That does happen. They come in out of the cold both emotional and physical. A variation on that was carried out by Ginger a neighbourhood cat who deposited a very tiny stray kitten on the doorstep of Ziggy’s house for them to care for. Ginger was smart enough to understand that the home was okay and also smart enough to understand that they needed help to raise their kitten. I don’t know how that worked out by the way. P.S. In Turkey stray cats not infrequently bring their kittens into mosques as they know they are safe places as Muslims accept cats in following the Prophet’s lead.

Toilet-trained kitties. Some people ask how do you train a cat to use the human toilet because they’ve seen videos on the Internet of domestic cats jumping up onto a toilet and defecating and urinating. I think one domestic cat even learned to pull the handle to flush their waste away!

Toilet trained Singapura cat
Toilet trained Singapura cat. The way to go if you have 3 months to train her/him. Photo by deborahdegolyer

There are two aspects to this form of training. You can train cats to do this with clicker training which is essentially reward-based training. It’s about positive reinforcement. You perhaps start off by putting a litter tray halfway down the bowl and then getting your cat through training to use the litter tray while being perched on the seat of the toilet. And then eventually you remove the litter tray and the cat goes to the toilet in the conventional human way. I have a page on that by the way which you can read by clicking on this link if you wish. Jackson Galaxy does not like this. I can see why. It’s convenient for humans but frankly inconvenient and unnatural for domestic cats. It is trying to shoe-horn the domestic cat into the human home.

There is a big downside, however, to this form of toileting which needs to be raised here. Regrettably, the domestic cat is a vector in the life cycle of Toxoplasma Gondi parasite. They only get it once and they only spread it in their faeces once in their life for about 10 days as I recall so the chance of them transmitting the disease is no were near as high as a person acquiring the disease from eating uncooked foods or vegetables. But what happens is this: the faeces get flushed into the sewage system if the cat is using the human toilet and on occasions, Toxoplasma gondii oocysts can find their way into the sea where in the past sea otters have, as I recall, contracted the disease. The point is that marine wildlife can be exposed to toxoplasmosis if a domestic cat uses the toilet. It’s rare and exceptional but this would be a downside.

My cat Gabriel should be included in this article. At one stage I kept him inside full-time but he was allowed into the garden but circumventing the garden was a cat containment fence designed to keep him in. It was a very specific and special fence and the manufacturer and installer said that only 1 in 1000 cats managed to get out. The fence had a large overhang and the bottom half of it was in metal and the top half in a plastic mesh. My cat got out. He learned that he could climb up the fence and over time he gnawed through the plastic mesh and force his way through the small hole and to the outside. This was difficult – both in terms of the physicality of it to hold himself on the fence for sufficient time to eat through the plastic portion and also in terms of intelligence to learn how to get out. Admirable, but ever since then my cat has been an indoor/outdoor cat!

Finally, there is an eight-year-old cat named Alexis who holds the record for the most tricks performed by a cat in one minute. Following her owner’s instructions, Alexis achieved what I believe is to be a world record 26 tricks in 60 seconds. I believe that to be a Guinness record by the way.

Pleas share your examples of smart cats.

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