How Smart Are Cats?

Ask someone “How smart are cats?” and you’ll probably get varying answers: The feline lover will glow with pride, offering up countless anecdotes demonstrating their fur baby’s unmistakable intelligence. Anyone else, well… they’re more likely to point out that cats achieve a tremendous amount of satisfaction from sitting in a box. So, who is correct?
What science tells us
Believe it or not, cats’ brains share 90 percent similarity with the human brain. Cat and human brains both contain cerebral cortices with similar lobes. The brain accounts for approximately 0.9 percent of a cat’s body mass, compared to about 2 percent in an average human and about 1.2 percent in an average dog.
While there are entire labs dedicated to studying canine cognition, few studies have been conducted relating cats’ behaviors and their overall brain physiology. Kristyn Vitale Shreve, a cat cognition and behavior research fellow at Oregon State University, explains in a PBS article that “there’s this perception of cats being untrainable or maybe hard to work with. Cats display a lot of individual variation and have distinct personalities, which make it hard for researchers to understand them.”
How smart are cats compared to dogs?
Ah, the age-old debate. In late 2017, a study published in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy offered findings based on the gray matter found in animals’ liquified brains (the bodies of which were donated post- mortem, of course). It turns out that dogs have twice as many neurons as cat —530 million in the cortex on average compared with 250 million, respectively. (Humans, on the other hand, have around 16 billion neurons.)
How smart are cats? It may depend on the breed
Just as distinct personality traits run in cats, certain breeds are more recognized for their intelligence. It’s no coincidence that these breeds also tend to be more sociable and interactive with their humans. In no particular order, here are some of the most intelligent cat breeds:
  • Abyssinian
  • Balinese
  • Bengal
  • Cornish Rex
  • Javanese
  • Siamese
  • Siberian
  • Turkish Angora/Van
Of course, that’s not to say your domestic shorthair isn’t as smart as one of these breeds. Every cat is wonderfully unique, and must be appreciated for their distinct qualities. Although there aren’t enough studies to qualify general feline intelligence, one undeniable truth points toward how smart cats are: They’ve managed to completely manipulate us humans!