Are Cats Smart? Five Ways To Find Out

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Are cats smart? I have to admit I know one who seems dumb as a rock. But most of us are very smart, although not in the same ways you are. We couldn’t do a complicated math problem, but I’ll bet you couldn’t figure out how to catch a mouse!

Are cats smart? Most are, although they'll never earn a diploma

Maybe your cats will never earn diplomas. But that doesn’t mean they’re not very smart.

Are cats smart Thomasina? Mine does the dumbest things!  — Curious Cat Mom

Hi Curious Cat Mom!

I’ll bet some of the things your cat does that seem dumb to you make perfect sense to him. Most cats are smart — very smart. But we use our intelligence in different ways than you do because we need to accomplish different things.

Although your cat can probably count exactly how many treats you just gave him, we have no need to understand advanced math. And you have no need to know how to catch a mouse because you probably wouldn’t eat one, no matter how hungry you were. 

Cats Have Lots Of Brain Power Packed Into A Tiny Package

My human typist did some research on this (cats are smart, but we haven’t figured out how to read words written by humans), and it turns out our brains are small compared to yours or dogs’. According to an article in Psychology Today, our brains occupy just 0.9 percent of our body mass, while yours occupies about 2 percent and dogs’ take up about 1.2 percent.

But experts say size doesn’t matter all that much. Phew… That’s a relief!

Surface folding and brain structure matter more than size, Berit Brogaard says in the Psychology Today article. “Unlike the brains of dogs, the brains of cats have an amazing surface folding and structure that is about 90 percent similar to humans’,” Dr. Brogaard says.

We have more nerve cells in the visual areas of our brains than humans and most other mammals, Dr. Brogaard adds. In case you didn’t know this (I didn’t!), the cerebral cortex is where we make rational decisions and solve complex problems. That’s also where we (and you) plan action, interpret communication and store short- and long-term memory.

We have longer memories than dogs, Dr. Brogaard says, especially when we learn by doing rather than watching

But How Can We See That Cats Are Smart?

If you asked me to read you a story or balance your checkbook, I couldn’t, but not because I’m not smart. We all use our intelligence to develop the skills sets we need to get along in this world and don’t waste time and energy learning the ones that aren’t necessary or useful.

So here are five ways to see that cats are smart.

1. If you really think about it, you’ll realize that your cat never, ever forgets anything. He’ll remember his cat sitter, even if he sees her just a few times a year. He’ll remember the vet, too, and that’s why it’s so important to choose a cat-friendly practice if you can find one. He also remembers cat and dog friends — and enemies. 

Would you know how to ride a bike if you hadn’t done it for years? Cats who have always lived inside can usually remember how to hunt if they really have to. 

2. You might have to really pay attention to see this one, but our intuition also makes cats smart. Our very sensitive ears play a part in this, too. Although I wouldn’t say we’re mind readers, we know when our people are sick, angry or depressed. We have our own way of telling time and — did you know this? — we can predict the weather!

3. Although our preferred means of communication is body language, we understand many of the words you say, especially if they’re associated with an action. If you say, “Are you ready to eat?” while you’re getting out a can of food, your cat will know exactly what you’re saying. And if you say, “Do you want to go out?” while you’re opening the door, he’ll be right there. He understands, “It’s time to come in,” too, but he may choose to ignore you.

Of course, we also have use our intelligence to learn our native language. If you learn to understand some cat body language, your cat will be so pleased and proud of you.  

4. Although we can’t read words written by humans, we can read claw marks and scents. They give us important information, like whether we’re close to home and who’s been sleeping on our favorite chair.

5. Oh, and one more way to see that cats are smart is to teach us tricks. Clicker or agility training could be fun for both of you.

To Stay Smart, Cat Brains Need Exercise

I go outside, so my brain gets lots of exercise. But if your cat stays in, you might have to provide some ways for him to get a mental workout.

Treat balls are a great way to make him think as he tries to figure out how to get the treats. Give him a few different kinds so he always has a challenge. Robotic toys that scoot around in different directions provide a mental challenge, too. And the cats at our house love giving our brains a workout by playing with our Da Bird with our human. 

I hope this helps, Curious Cat Mom. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get going now. My brain is tired from all this dictation, and I need a nap!

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