How smart are cats?

The internet is full of images and videos of cats, and some of them do some pretty smart things, like opening doorknobs and playing games on an ipad. Others seem to be just constantly baffled. So just how smart are cats? 

Trying to answer the question "how intelligent are cats?" can be complicated by cats tendency to be, well, cats. As any cat owner knows, cats do what they want, which can make them hard to study.

When trying to calculate how smart cats are, one measure that can be used is to count the number of neurons in the brain. According to a 2016 study, cats have an NPD (or neuron packing density) that is much higher than dogs. That seemed to suggest that cats are smarter than dogs. However, a 2017 study seems to contradict this finding, so more research might be needed. notes some things that we do know about cats cognition, which is the way that cats gathers information, makes decision and then acts on those decisions. 

The first thing is that cats have a sense of "object permanence", which means that cats know that things just don't disappear. In other words, if you show your cat an object and then hide it behind a box, the cat understands that that object still exists. 

Another thing is that cats have memories. This helps them use their past experiences to help them solve problems that they face later on. A good example of cats having memories that you might have personal experience with is if your cat freaks out at the sight of the cat carrier because it remembers the last unpleasant trip to the vet that it took in that carrier. 

The third thing is that cats do have a sense of time passing. says they understand the difference between a few minutes and all day. 

And the other thing is that cats can recognize people and their voices. They can also pick up on human signs and gestures to get clues about that person's mood. This helps them form relationships with the people around them. 

So, are cats smart? One way to look at it, as puts it, is that cats are smart at being cats! They have the right abilities to successfully cat, which includes finding and tracking smaller prey and hiding from larger predators.

Of course, cats are individuals and some cats will be smarter than others. offers some tests to see how smart your own cat is. 

One test is to show them a toy that they like, then hide it behind something like a box. If they go looking for it behind the box, you know they have that sense of object permanence we mentioned before. Just make sure they are interested in the toy, or they might not go looking for it just because they don't care to, not because they thought it disappeared! If your cat passes this test, says that means they are around as smart as a one year old human baby.

Then the next text is to get a toy that moves - like a ball. Roll it around a few times, so your cat can see how it moves, then roll it behind something, like that box. Does your cat anticipate that it will roll out from behind the box? If your cat runs over to the other side to intercept the rolling ball, says that they are as smart as the average two year old human! 

When it comes to cat intelligence compared to humans, all I know is that I go to work all day, while my cats spend their days lounging, playing and basically doing whatever they want. So, you tell me - who's smarter? 

 Cover photo by Jonatan Balderas Cabañas on Unsplash

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published