How Smart Are Cats? Instinct And Intelligence In Cats

You’ve heard that curiosity killed the cat, but have you heard that intelligence is what saved it? Cats may be entirely curious creatures, but their internal sense of instinct and intellect is a marvel. From keeping them safe in the wild to helping them manipulate you into a second dinner, cats surprise us every day by how incredibly smart they are (almost too smart… it’s suspicious). Many fictional representations of cats show them as master thinkers who are communicating with their alien lords to overthrow the human race. This is pretty close, we think. While cats may not be constantly plotting humanity’s demise, they must be brewing something up in their little brains of theirs. Even if they are just pondering the most effective way to get into the nearest tree and get the squirrel that is taunting them.

The evolution of our feline friends has lent them some pretty cool tricks. Yeah, dogs may be able to catch, but cats can detect earthquakes 10 to 15 minutes before humans can. What’s the real trick here? Cats show us every day how personality-filled, independent, and strong-willed they are. And if you ask any cat lover, this is exactly what we love them for.

While every owner is sure that their cat has some unique intelligence about them, the following is a brief discussion of universal, generally agreed upon and scientifically suggested proof that cats are not only instinctual, but highly intelligent.

Cats’ Brains Are More Similar To Humans Than Dogs’ Brains Are 1

While the size of cats’ brains may be smaller than both dogs and humans, this is no indication of how intelligent they actually are. In fact, in terms of shape and function, cats’ brains are actually much closer to human brains than those of dogs. Their brains are compartmentalized similar to ours which allows them to understand their surroundings and even process some emotions. When cats meow, they are only talking to humans. Cats do not communicate with others through meows. Could this indicate that they are trying to communicate with their brain-twins? Perhaps. If so, we should pay attention.

Cats Have Impeccable Short And Long-Term Memory.

With their unique brains, cats have a large capacity for short and long-term memory. Unlike the stereotype of dogs who forget all the mistakes and absences of their owners, cats remember (almost too well!) While cats don’t necessarily hold grudges, they still might hold you accountable for that week-long vacation where you left them at home alone. Cats have an incredible amount of storage capacity in their mind for memories, instincts, and the like. In fact, cats have exponentially more processing speed and memory space than the modern iPhone! But any cat owner could’ve told you that.

Cats Have More Nerve Cells In The Areas Responsible For Planning And Problem Solving Than Most Mammals 2.

So… back to the thought that cats may be plotting humanity’s demise. According to science, this might not be that far off the mark (but, honestly, wouldn’t that be the best way for humanity to go?) According to Psychology Today, cats actually have more nerve cells than most mammals (including humans and dogs) in the part of their brain responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, planning, memory, and language processing. Does this mean that their meows are actually a language they’ve concocted themselves that we just can’t seem to figure out? We like to think so. One factor to consider here is the curiosity of cats. Although they are well-equipped with problem-solving and decision-making, their curiosity still gets them into sticky situations every now and then. Like chasing a squirrel up a tree and not being able to get down (we’ve all been there).

Cats Learn Through Observation.

Like several of their fellow mammals, cats have the primary instinct of learning through observation. This is incredibly important for kitten hood when cats look to their mothers for clues on how to groom, eat, play, scratch, and survive. However, this extends into their cat adulthood as well. Cats are able to implement a feedback loop, which makes it actually doable to teach a cat tricks. If they sit, they get a treat. They want a treat, so they sit. Some cats can even shake on command! It’s that easy. Well… unless the cat isn’t in the mood to do your bidding. We never said cats weren’t incredibly stubborn.

Cats Can Actually Understand What Humans And Other Mammals Are Communicating To Them.

Our cats ignore us a lot of the time, unlike dogs, but this may actually be because they understand and choose not to respond anyway (how rude!) Cats are able to understand what another animal is trying to communicate with them. In the animal world, this is pretty astounding. For pet owners, this means that cats likely understand when you want them to come inside or eat their dinner or stop biting you. When they don’t respond, though, it’s probably because they’re tuned out. Could cats get any closer to being human teenagers? The silent treatment, the constant need for attention but not too much attention - yep, it all checks out.

Experts Think Cats Find Their Way Home Either Using The Angle Of Sunlight Or Magnetized Compasses In Their Brains 3.

It’s always a mystery where cats go when they’re outside during the day, but it’s also a mystery how in the world they learn how to come home every time. Sure, they have great memory, but enough to bring them all the way home after they journey blocks away in any given direction? Experts think that, in fact, cats are able to process the angle of the sunlight to sense their way home. That, or they have magnetized cells in their brain that act as compasses and can sense the earth’s magnetism. This makes us humans look rather - dumb - in comparison. All we have is Google Maps.

Because Cats Are Sensitive To Vibrations, They Can Detect Earthquakes Sooner Than Humans Can 4.

Any cat owner would agree that cats are heaven-sent lifesavers. But did you know that they are so in-tune with their environment that they can sense the tremors of an earthquake earlier than we can? Cats rely heavily on their equilibrium to balance and always land on their feet, so they’re incredibly sensitive to vibrations. This means when the tectonic plates go a-shifting, cats may be the first to know. In the most heroic sense, we like to envision our cats alerting us of any impending danger and thus saving our lives. But we’ll just see when that time comes.

Cats Could Care Less About Scientific Experiments That Test How Smart They Are.

In the various tests that have been done to determine just how smart cats are, it’s not surprising that they are rather reluctant to participate. Unlike their obedient dog counterparts, cats are incredibly independent and free-willed. Likely, they do not care one bit that humans want to know how smart they are. They would rather keep to themselves and leave us guessing. In the lab setting, this means that cats rarely play along with the scientists’ various tests of intelligence, leaving us with more confusion about the actual smartness of our feline friends. At the end of the day, can we really blame them? For most of us, that independence is what we love them for.

Cats May Not Be As Social Of Creatures As Dogs, But Introverted Owners Agree That This Is Not Indicative Of Intelligence.

Dogs rank higher on the social intelligence scale, but any cat owner who enjoys their alone time can vouch that this does not necessarily reflect ultimate intellect. Sure, dogs are more obedient, social, and easier to acclimate with to other dogs, but cats are strong-willed, mildly-social, and human-loving (most of the time.) While they may not be the quickest creature to make a friend, we think a lot of humans can relate to this sentiment. Don’t count out cats just yet!

Approximately One Out Of Three Cat Owners Think Their Cats Are Mind Readers 5.

This one may not directly reflect the actual intelligence of cats, but it does say something. Apparently, one third of cat owners believe that their pets can read their minds. This may sound absurd, but have you ever caught your cat looking at you in a weirdly intrusive way? Or comforting you when you’ve had a particularly bad day? Perhaps they’re reading our minds, or perhaps they’re plotting humanity’s ultimate demise. We’ll never know. But we’ll continue debating the mystery of our feline friends, because we love it.

At Petozy, we design smart products for smart pets. We know that cats are intelligent and independent, and that’s why we designed our Petozy Scratching Toy with this in mind. We believe that stimulating active play in our kitty friends keeps them sharp, witty, and full of love!

Do you have an overly intelligent cat? Do you have any special stories about your cat exhibiting their wit and intellect? We’d love to hear in the comments below!

Sources Cited


1 Piven, Hanoch. What Cats Are Made Of. New York, NY: Ginee Seo Books, 2009.

2 Dr. Berit Brogaard, Psychology Today

3 Piven, Hanoch. What Cats Are Made Of. New York, NY: Ginee Seo Books, 2009.

4 Clutton-Brock, Juliet. Cat. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc, 2004.

5 Fogle, Bruce. Cats. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2006.

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