Are you looking for the most intelligent cat breeds? Wondering whether your kitten is a clever cat? Then check out our complete guide to cat intelligence.
Ask any cat lover which cat is the smartest, and chances are high you will hear, “My cat!”
Fair enough, but can we really be sure whose cat is the smartest?
And whether cats are even an intelligent species at all?
Fortunately, we can!
There is no doubt, scientifically speaking, that the intelligence level of cats is sufficiently elevated to merit recognition and additional study.
So let’s explore the cat mind. Looking at clever cats from different breeds, taking our best guess at cat IQ and even attempting to track down the smartest cat in the world.
Cat intelligence has been a subject of intense scientific interest and scrutiny since the late 1800’s.
The first modern day researcher to seriously study cat intelligence was the psychologist Edward Thorndike.
He developed puzzle boxes and placed hungry cats inside them. He then placed a tasty piece of fish outside each box and timed how long it took each cat to escape from the box to nab the fish.
Not surprisingly, Thorndike’s cats became very good at this task very quickly.
Cat Intelligence Timeline
More recently, a series of research studies verified additional key components of cat intelligence.
- 1976: Cats demonstrate awareness of time and quantity. [Human babies develop the former around the first month of life and the latter around the fifth month of life.]
- 1994: Cats demonstrate “object permanence” by seeking out objects that have been hidden. [Human babies develop this around the fifth month of life.]
- 2005: Cats demonstrate “theory of mind” (awareness of the viewpoint of others) by following a human researcher’s pointing cues to locate hidden food. [Human babies develop this around the seventh month of life.]
- 2013: Cat brain structure is found to be 90 percent similar to human brain structure.
- 2017: Cats and dogs are tested side-by-side and found to have equal ability to form and retain episodic memory (one facet of self-awareness). [Human babies get this between 15 and 24 months of life.]
- McLeod, S. A., “Edward Thorndike,” Simply Psychology, 2007.
- Soniak, M., “4 Facts About Your Cat’s Brain,” PetMD, 2016.
- Brogaard, B., D.M.Sci., Ph.D., “How Smart Is Your Cat?”, Psychology Today, 2013.
- Tagaki, S., “Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats,” Science Direct, 2017.
- Schultz, C., “Scientists Confirm That Cats a) Are Pretty Smart, b) Don’t Really Care What You Want,” Smithsonian Magazine, 2014.
- Blumenstock, K., “Top 8 Smartest Cat Breeds,” PawCulture, 2017.
While all the research that has ever been done on the IQ of a cat would appear as a drop in the bucket next to the mounds of data collected to date about canine intelligence, the 2017 study cited here confirms one fact: the average cat or dog is commensurately as smart as the average 2.5-year-old human child.
That being said, let’s take some time to look at the difference between feline and canine intelligence.
As used here, the term “difference” simply means different – not better or worse, neither more nor less preferred.
Dog Intelligence vs Cat Intelligence
Dogs are pack animals, social to their core. Everything that dogs do is motivated by their need for social interaction.
Therefore, dogs typically make for eager, enthusiastic and highly willing research subjects. They have been trained to be during thousands of years of cohabitation with humans.
Cats are independent and largely non-pack oriented. While a dog will turn to a human for help completing a complex task, a cat will continue trying on her own to complete the task – if she wants to, that is. Research has proved cats can recognize their owner’s voice, but often will not respond regardless.
Ultimately, the roles of early dogs and cats living amongst humans were quite different. Dogs became hunting sidekicks, bodyguards and herders, partnering with humans to make life easier for both.
Cats, on the other hand, have had a continually unstable co-existence with humans, tolerated when their talents for mousing or staving off plague were useful but otherwise either being worshipped or demonized in turn.
With such a history, it is little wonder cat and dog intelligence, while theoretically equal, often expresses itself so differently!
Cat IQ test
In the wake of an increased focus on studying animal intelligence and as more researchers are keen to answer the question “How intelligent are cats?” you would think a standardized cat intelligence test would exist somewhere.
Unfortunately, no such test exists…or at least not yet.
Probably the closest thing to a standardized pen-and-paper (or fingers and keyboard) cat IQ test comes from the 1992 book, “The Cat IQ Test,” published worldwide by Penguin.
Although the test itself is derived from scientific assessment protocols, it is presented as a fun novelty. Not a rigorous research vehicle.
Most intelligent cats
Hopefully by now the question of “Are cats smart?” has been well and thoroughly put to rest.
Sure they are smart!
According to Joan Miller of the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), every cat could be considered a “smarty cat,” in his or her own way. As an example, Miller states, all cats can be taught tricks, household rules or leash walking.
Of course, whether they want to be taught is another matter entirely.
So in presenting the five most intelligent cat breeds here, it is critical to recognize that phrases like “most intelligent” put a distinctly (and thus unavoidable) human spin on feline intelligence, about which we still know relatively little.
In other words, these five cat breeds can be considered to exhibit specific types of intelligence humans tend to find most recognizable and praise-worthy.
With dutiful disclaimers made, drumroll please…..
This beautiful, sleek and elegant feline hails from ancient Egypt.
With large, graceful, upturned ears and huge almond eyes that can convey intelligence and empathy at a glance, the “Aby” is an undeniable head-turner.
Abyssinians have a tremendous vocalization range, giving them high marks in nonverbal communication. They are also unusually affectionate and nurturing for a feline breed, and are able to demonstrate compassion in remarkable ways. They also score major points in memory and ability to learn new things.
The Siamese cat achieved worldwide popular recognition via their memorable cameo in the 1955 film “Lady and the Tramp.”
But “Siams,” as they are sometimes still called, are no stranger to fame and fortune, hailing as they do from the ancient Asian country of Siam.
Siamese cats are naturally self-confident and vocal, often seeming to communicate on multiple levels simultaneously and in the strongest possible language. With a powerful memory and instinctive grasp of choice and consequence, they will go for what they want so long as the reward appears to be worth the risk.
#3. Japanese bobtail
This feline is best known by its small “bob” of a tail. A former favored pet of Japanese royals, the bobtail likely owes its modern existence to its hunting prowess and smarts rather than its sleek and aristocratic appearance.
Bobtails could be considered the acrobats of the feline world, with strength, speed and agility to spare. They are also surprisingly well socialized to people, enjoying interspecies activities such as learning new tricks.
Looking into the eyes of a lovely grey-blue Korat is like gazing into the eyes of feline history.
The Korat is one of the earliest/oldest known domesticated cat breeds. Hailing from the same neck of the woods as the Siamese.
Korat intelligence initially manifests in the form of a caution and reserve that could seem like timidity. But these cats are far from timid. Rather, they are shrewd survivors who listen more than speak and select the activities they wish to participate in only after assessing any potential risks to themselves.
#1. Turkish Angora
The Turkish Angora has never relinquished its predatory instincts or skills, which makes this feline fiercely independent and strong-willed.
A Turkish Angora who wants something, whether a treat, a toy, attention or something totally off-limits, will rarely stop until she gets it.
The Turkish Angora is a quick learner with fast, accurate instincts and a penchant for pranks. Knocking things off counters just to watch them fall, opening drawers or doors to nab prime treats you thought for sure you had hidden far out of reach….this is the spice of life for a Turkish Angora.
Smartest cat breed
In an intriguing research study conducted at a Parisian veterinary school, the Sphynx (hairless) cat took top marks as the “friendliest” cat – winning out over 14 other breeds and 129 other contestants.
But does “friendliest” automatically rate the title of “smartest” as well?
In this case, Animal Planet agrees with the Parisians, and has granted the Sphynx top honors as its pick for “smartest cat breed.”
The Sphynx was the only cat to score a perfect “10” out of 10 on the Animal Planet intelligence test, although several other breeds came close.
Interestingly (and in support of the “smartest cat” designation), the Traditional Cat Association (TCA) describes the Sphynx as part cat, part child, part dog and part monkey, and points out that this breed often appears to have hands instead of paws.
Smartest cat in the world
As we mentioned earlier in this post, the cat owner who doesn’t think their feline is the smartest. cat. ever. is a rare owner indeed.
If you ask the internet, a number of additional feline candidates present themselves for consideration.
For instance, there is Didze, the cat from Australia who can perform 20 tricks in 60 seconds, which turned her into a card-carrying Guinness Book of World Records titleholder.
Next we have Kido, the so-named “David Blaine of cats,”. Apparently finding the complexities of the shell game, where a toy or treat is hidden under only one of three moving cups, about as taxing as the average nap.
Didga can apparently do any trick a dog can do. But perhaps far more miraculous – she seems to actually want to do them!
All that being said, our vote goes to the now-deceased Sullivan. He was a rescued Maine Coon, who was trained in the style of Alex, Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s late great African Grey parrot. Sullivan could identify colors, shapes, numbers and abstract ideas (same/different, bigger/smaller).
How do we rate feline intelligence?
Rating feline intelligence is definitely not a task for the faint of opinion.
A fast-moving target at best (especially given ongoing challenges with recruiting research subjects) it may not ever be possible to state definitively that one breed, or one cat, is smarter than all the rest.
But already it is clear that, as with humans, felines display so many different types of intelligence wrapped inside robustly well-developed and equally unique personalities.
The highly vocal and social Sphynx cat trying to curl herself around your neck like a shawl….intelligent.
The chattery Bengal who sings along to your favorite DVD (right before plucking it out of the player and pouncing on top of it)….intelligent..
The teensy Singapura who can fit into practically any space you particularly do not want him to go….intelligent.
The Cornish Rex, so “dog-like” she actually retrieves items you throw – as well as items you don’t throw….intelligent.
Oh, and your amazing, adorable, precious, perfect, soon-to-be-viral sensation of a feline….intelligent.
Do you have a clever cat?
Do you think your cat could compete for the most intelligent cat title? What does he do that makes him stand out from the rest?
Why not let us know all about your smart kitty in the comments section below!
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References and Further Reading
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