Sunday 22 October 2023

Are wild cats smarter than domestic cats?

The question is a difficult one to answer because we're not really comparing apples with apples as the intelligence of wild cats has evolved in the wild to deal with the challenges that they face in that specific environment whereas cat domestication over the past 10,000 years has resulted in the domestic cat evolving their own intelligence to deal with living within the human environment. There are difficulties in making a comparison. 

However, have always thought that the wild cats should be smarter than domestic cat because they are challenged every hour of every day of their lives. They must meet these challenges and surmount them to survive. That requires brainpower which means the brain is more exercised and elastic.

They are liable to be smarter than the pampered domestic cat living in a comfortable home where practically everything is done for them. This can detune the brain, make it more passive and less exercised. You know what they say about human dementia. If you exercise the brain when you are elderly you can stave off dementia because the brain needs exercising just like the muscles.

To summarise, it is difficult to compare wild cat intelligence with domestic cat intelligence because they live in two different environments and have different challenges and have evolved in different ways. However, a study recently published asked whether domestic animals in general are more stupid than their wild relatives.


What they did was to look at many previous studies related to this topic. They analysed them and came up with a conclusion. In all, they reviewed 88 studies comparing the intelligence of domesticated and wild animals.

The conclusion was that in 30% of the studies they found that wild animals were indeed smarter than domestic animals. But countering that finding they found that in another 30% of the studies the scientists had concluded that domestic animals were smarter than wild animals. Of the remaining 40% the scientists found that both domestic and wild animals had a similar cognitive performance i.e. intelligence.

This study which is the first of its kind, came up with an inconclusive answer. Neither the domestic cat nor the wild cat is smarter than the other. The obvious conclusion of that is that they have a similar level of intelligence.

I still tend to disagree with it and this study concerned animals in general whereas I am focusing on domestic and wild cats. There may be a difference here because domestic cats are particularly pampered in good homes whereas not all domestic animals are such as livestock.

Therefore, it is probably slightly inaccurate to use this study to conclusively state that domestic cats are of a similar intelligence to their wild cat counterpart.

I'm going to stick with my original thoughts that domestic cats have been dumbed down slightly, in general, over about 10,000 years of domestication.

Living with exotic cats - F1 hybrids and wild cats

Interestingly, when people adopt by which I mean purchase a wild cat hybrid or they purchase a wild cat as a pet, such as a serval or caracal, they say that it is like living with a domestic cat on crack or on steroids. It seems to them that the cat is too hyper, too energetic, to wild and indeed to intelligent.

This is anecdotal evidence but the high filial hybrids such as the F1 Savannah and F1 Bengal cat also behave somewhat like the wild cats as exotic pets. They are very challenging to live with by comparison to the more placid and laid-back regular domestic cat.

And I think this is a reflection of the animals' intelligence. If they are hyperactive and demanding, it means that their brain is working harder. They demand more stimulation. They demand more challenges. This is a brain which seeks challenges and therefore on that basis I conclude the brain is smarter than that of a domestic cat.

The study title: "Are domesticated animals dumber than their wild relatives? A comprehensive review on the domestication effects on animal cognitive performance."


I also have a theory that with the sometimes-heavy inbreeding of purebred cats can affect their intelligence. I'm sure this is a plausible suggestion which can probably be supported with scientific evidence. Inbreeding not only compromises the immune system and the general anatomy and physiology of a domestic cat but can also dumb down the cat I believe. So, it might be arguable to state that some purebred cats are definitely dumber than wild cats. I think that would be quite a firm conclusion.

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