Friday 25 April 2008

Cat Intelligence - a discussion

Cat intelligence has interested people for a considerable time as has the intelligence of dogs. Who is the smarter and are they smarter than a chicken?

Sphynx cat considered smart
Sphynx cat considered smart. Image: copyright Helmi Flick

Recently humankind has gradually become aware of the intelligence of other animals on the planet. Some cats are more intelligent than others it seems, but this is anecdotal evidence. Often cat breeders writing about the cat they breed will understandably promote their chosen cat breed by describing it as more intelligent than others.

RELATED: An interesting infographic which looks at cat intelligence from a different viewpoint. Click the link to read it please.

An interesting article in a newspaper, the Penny Illustrated (UK) dated 1st June 1912 asks the question, "Does your cat or your dog think? If so, do they think in the same way as you do?"

The article refers to published research work at the time by Professor Thorndike of Columbia University, called "Animal Intelligence". The professor approached the question from the standpoint of experimental psychology (experimental testing of actual cats and dogs etc.).

Cats, dogs and chickens were placed in cages and they had to get out without assistance by means of certain devices that they had to manipulate having learned to do so by trial and error. The motivation was food outside the cage.

The professor found that the cats became agitated and calmed down after 10 mins. They worked out how to get out and when out they ran! "By dint of biting and scratching they end by discovering the method of opening the door and release themselves". They were more interested in getting out than eating the food (makes sense to as it's more important to get out and away than remain near people who want to cage you up).

Dogs apparently behaved better. They were calmer and more "attentive to their nourishment". Dogs showed less desire to escape. They succeeded in quickly learning the opening mechanism. They "showed no desire to run away as the cats do" once they had got out and got the food.

As for the chickens they "showed great agitation" when shut up in a cage. "They succeeded much less often than cats and dogs" to escape.

The professor concludes:

"According to these results the dogs appeared most intelligent, the cats near to them, and the chickens far behind"

Are cats really less intelligent than dogs? It would seem that if it is a straight contest as to which can solve problems or learn relatively complex tasks then the dog wins. Dogs are certainly more trainable and yet some cats are dog-like and trainable to (but to a lesser extent). These are usually the wildcat hybrids such as the Bengal and Chausie. But there are different types of intelligence. In any event cats are individuals (less socially aware) while dogs are pack animals and will look up to and learn from the alpha animal (the human normally). That is probably why they are trainable (or at least in part).

Amongst cats some are probably a bit smarter than others. My research indicates that the wildcat hybrids tend to be smarter probably because the brain has been trained to be sharper to survive in the wild.

A ranking has been carried out by Animal Planet which although rather unscientific it seems does give some indications, which I would think cat fanciers would agree with. At the less intelligent end are cats like the Himalayan, Exotic Shorthair (Persian/American Shorthair cross) and Persian. These three are all Persian based cats. These cats are docile and passive. Perhaps they are uninquisitive, which will limit learning by experience. Cat intelligence is hard to measure.

At the smarter end there is the Sphynx. I can agree this. They do behave in more inquisitive, active and interested manner indicating intelligence. Other smart cats are the other skinny cats such as the Oriental Shorthair, Balinese, Javanese, Turkish Angora. The Bengal also falls into this group too.

The full list of the smart cats:

* Bengal
* Colorpoint Shorthair
* Havana Brown
* Javanese
* Oriental Shorthair
* Siamese
* Sphynx (top cat)

In the middle ground (average cat intelligence) we have:

* American Shorthair
* Birman
* Bombay
* Abyssinian
* American Curl
* American Wirehair
* British Shorthair
* Cornish Rex
* Cymric
* Maine Coon
* Manx
* Ragdoll
* Scottish Fold
* Snowshoe
* Somali

Just below the Sphynx level (the top rank cat intelligence) we have these cat breeds:

* Burmese
* Chartreux
* Devon Rex
* Egyptian Mau
* Japanese Bobtail
* Korat
* Norwegian Forest Cat
* Ocicat
* Russian Blue
* Siberian
* Singapura
* Tonkinese
* Turkish Angora
* Turkish Van

This list must be taken with a pinch of salt however. As to random bred cats, by far the most common cats, these cats probably vary in intelligence just as humans do. This variation must apply to the individual cats that are purebred too.

I am sure that there are random bred cats that are as intelligent, if not more intelligent, than Sphynx cats. We should be open to variations in character and intelligence amongst individual cats.

Cat Intelligence to Sphynx Cat


  1. The professor thinks that this who went for the food was most intelligent.

    However, the cat is more intelligent since it is going for its freedom and security before food.

    A human being will do exactly the same, try to run away from the cage rather that eat and get back in.

  2. Nice thinking. And thanks for the comment.

  3. It does show the lack of understanding of the professor determining the dog to be the smartest due to food motivation. Methinks he should have used a ginger DSH instead. It would have figured out the mechanism, eaten the food, AND ran away. ;-)

    I do apologise for my humour but gingers do tend to be quite food orientated to the point of being almost doglike, if you have food you're a friend to many.

    I must confess a degree of scepticism about animal planet's ranking system given even your own observations with the wildcat hybrids, why are some breeds I know to be highly intelligent and resourceful listed so low?

    Might I suggest you include a link to their ranking? I'm curious as to what tests they put our feline friends to to determine this listing.

  4. Hi, thanks for the good comment.Yes, I'll do some work on your suggestion. Of course the moggie wasn't listed, just purebred cats. And moggies are, as you say, the best in many ways including health.

  5. I find it hard to believe Hymalayan breeds are on the "less intelligent end" of the scale, I myself have had two Hymalayan cats and both were VERY cunning, more so than any other animal I owned or met. But of course I'm also biased too.

  6. Maybe, I.m just being a concerned parent, but p
    oscar, my tabby/.bengal,plays me like a fiddle.
    I ha e a am no dummy.
    he gets me to do whatever he wants.
    my 5yr.old nephew can.t do.that. So how dumb can these animals be?

  7. I had a Persian. He ran away. Before that, he hid in high places where we couldn't reach to delay our visit to the vet. He also did this when he knew he was going outside. Can Persians really be that low on intelligence?

    1. No, I think he was smart! He didn't want to go so he became inaccessible. The truth is that all domestic cats are of similar intelligence. Cats remember vet visits, don't like them and try to avoid them. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I don't know about Himmies or Siamese being on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum. My family had a Siamese growing up and he was extremely intelligent and very inquisitive when it came to his environment. Today, I have a Himalayan/Siamese mixed cat and I don't think I have seen a cat with his intelligence, problem solving skills, curiousity, and just overall charisma. He can open doors with latches that are not locked, he easily gets in cabinets, knows that door knobs are the way to open doors and could probably open one if he had opposable thumbs. Oliver knows where we keep his treat bag even if was recently moved. He regularly outsmarts the dachshunds in the house and can find great hiding places when he needs time away from the dogs. I believe he also understands some words as he responds well to commands, either by coming to you or meowing in response. I think the last part has a lot to do with his Siamese lineage since they're known for being very vocal cats. Lastly, Oliver is very affectionate and usually wants to be right next to you, no matter what you are doing.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Your comments are always welcome.

Featured Post

i hate cats

i hate cats, no i hate f**k**g cats is what some people say when they dislike cats. But they nearly always don't explain why. It appe...

Popular posts