It’s not the same as human, intelligence just different. Cats are very intelligent and it’s thought possibly - and controversially - even more so than dogs. In fact, scientists have found that relatively speaking the cerebral cortex of cats is bigger and more complex than that of dogs and contains about twice as many neurons (nerve cells) as that of dogs.
The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making and complex problem-solving, as well as long-term memory and understanding communication. But as most of us are well aware, cats often appear more impatient, impulsive and independent than dogs, which may explain why we haven’t managed to train them to work for us like dogs do.
Cats are also solitary survivalists rather than pack animals. It’s why it can prove difficult to research into how intelligent cats are as it’s so difficult to persuade them to do anything they don’t want to do.
Dogs tend to rely on us humans a lot more than cats, but then studies show they’ve been domesticated for a lot longer than cats – for about 30,000, whereas in comparison cats have only been domesticated for between 6,000 and 10,000 years, depending which study you read.
Due to these clear differences it stands to reason therefore that cats are very difficult to study compared to dogs so it’s almost impossible to scientifically compare the two. Just like dogs, they can solve problems and be trained, but it’s the persuading them to so that’s the tricky bit.
Cats know their owners are not cats, instead thinking that we are good friends who never fail to provide them with food, affection, bedding, shelter and protection. Our beloved pet cats were originally domesticated thousands of years ago because they protected the grain stores from rats and other rodents. That was an easy food source for them. We gave them extra treats to keep them patrolling these grain stores so cats became more trusting of us and less fearful. Being around humans also protected them from predators so they decided to stick around. And of course the Ancient Egyptians even worshipped them.
- Cats actually decide to be with us though rather than just rely on us – we know how single-minded they are and how they just like to do their own thing. Cat-lovers will also be aware just how much our feline friends often communicate with us to convey their needs.
Cats actually decide to be with us though rather than just rely on us – we know how single-minded they are and how they just like to do their own thing. Cat-lovers will also be aware just how much our feline friends often communicate with us to convey their needs. They can miaow when they’re happy, usually miaow when they’re hungry, and can even miaow when they’re in a great deal of pain or discomfort. There are lots of different types of miaows; as David Brent may say – ‘different miaows for different needs’. Sometimes, when a cat is about to die, they often emit this horrific miaow, a really howly, spine-chilling miaow. It’s just awful, I used to hear it a lot when I ran an emergency veterinary clinic especially when road traffic accident victim were brought in.
Sometimes cats miaow to communicate with other cats in the area, sometimes it’s to mark their territory, sometimes it’s because they want affection, and sometimes they want even more affection! Or they’re just telling you they’re there – many of the oriental breeds, the Burmese and Siamese for example, are often much more vocal compared to other breeds; there’s clearly a huge, and very variable range of miaows.
Another example of feline intelligence could be the fact that they always seem to prefer sitting on your laptop or right in the middle of the newspaper you’re reading. They know it’s going to get them the most attention as you have to interact with them. They also seem to like sitting in circles.
Cats also like to sit on warm things, like those beds that hook over radiators, as well as the slightly more dangerous car engines that they often climb into car bonnets in the winter to snuggle up to.
Recently I visited an animal shelter in Philadelphia, USA, and in their cattery, staff now put a large brown paper bag in every cat’s kennel. At least 90% of those cats I said hello to were happily sitting in these bags, it was fascinating. That’s why cats love going in boxes. If I have a cat in my consulting room, and I have the carrying cage on the table, 90% of cats will go in it. It’s because it gives them security and shelter – it comforts them.
They also love heights - hence loving cat trees with lots of platforms - and that’s also part of this control thing. They enjoy looking down from high up as it helps them to feel less stressed and more secure. Having some kind of close physical boundary seems to be something cats need to help them relax and feel in control, so they constantly seek them out. Basically, cats are very clever and incredibly resourceful!