Last Updated: 4 months ago

Are cats intelligent?

I came across this question recently in a forum, and there was a lot of sage wisdom in the responses.

The general consensus was that the question is hard to answer because of the nebulous nature of the word “intelligence.”

With humans, we even look at intelligence from several different viewpoints: “book smarts,” “street smarts,” and emotional intelligence.

Cats are generally considered to be intelligent animals with excellent memory, problem-solving abilities, and social intelligence.

While their intelligence may differ from dogs and other animals in certain ways, there is no doubt that cats are smart and capable of learning and adapting to their environments.

4 Approaches to Understanding Cat Intelligence

Memory

memory of cat

I’ll spare you from making a Cats reference here (you’re welcome).

Studies on animal intelligence often focus on memory as a marker, and dogs have already shown that they are capable of episodic memory – the ability to recall specific events, people, and things that occurred at specific moments and places.

A study recently published in Behavioural Processes concluded that cats, too, exhibit episodic memory.

They were able to recall after 15 minutes which bowl of food they’d eaten out of and which they had not.

Cognitive-Motor Function

cat pretending to study

Maze studies are not unusual to test an animal’s cognitive function, and one that was done back in 2013 with a T-maze focused on cats’ ability to learn the maze with a food reward.

The subject cats were capable of learning the maze and moving through it relatively quickly to get to their reward.

These results also exhibit that many cats’ motivation is high.

Think about motivation and intelligence in humans – we often seem to think that the two go hand-in-hand.

So why not the same for cats?

Reading Moods

cute cat sleeping next to book

“Emotional intelligence” is a buzz phrase that references a person’s ability to manage their own emotions and those around them.

Humans are able to read other people’s moods and empathize with those emotions.

While cats don’t appear to be able to get as far as empathy, a study published in Animal Cognition does indicate that cats are able to read moods.

When the cats’ owners were smiling, the cats exhibited positive behaviors like purring and rubbing, whereas the owners’ frowning caused the opposite effect in the cats.

Most cat owners would probably agree wholeheartedly with the findings of this study!

Independence

cat playing outside

What can be challenging with cats is that their independent nature sometimes makes them appear aloof.

It can be hard to figure out what a cat is capable of when he simply doesn’t wish to participate! To some extent, though, I think a cat’s self-sufficiency also is an indicator of intelligence.

In these different areas, it definitely appears that cats, as a species, are intelligent.

But it’s impossible to say that all cats are or all cats are not, just as it’s impossible to make that determination with humans.

If you are a cat lover, one thing is certain – your cat is at least intelligent enough to have you wrapped around her little paw. And you probably wouldn’t have it any other way!

Wrap-Up

While cats are often portrayed as aloof and independent creatures, they are actually quite intelligent and possess a range of cognitive abilities.

Studies have shown that cats have excellent memory skills, problem-solving abilities, and social intelligence.

While their intelligence may differ from dogs and other animals in certain ways, there is no doubt that cats are smart and capable of learning and adapting to their environments.

As researchers continue to investigate feline intelligence, we can look forward to even more insights into the fascinating world of our feline friends.

So the next time you see your cat doing something clever or surprising, remember that there is much more to these creatures than meets the eye.

What do you think? How smart are cats? Tell us some of the signs of brilliance your kitty has shown. We’d love to hear your stories!

Everyone wants to know: are cats intelligent? Check out four different ways we’re answering this burning question!
Linda
Linda

Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Linda is the resident vet for Woman magazine and a frequent contributor to People’s Friend Magazine, the Dogzone website, Vet Help Direct and Wag! Linda also writes content for the CVS veterinary group, Vetwriter and a number of other establishments.