Cat Behavior

Cat Intelligence: Your Feline’s Brilliant Brain

Cat Intelligence: Your Feline's Brilliant Brain

Kitties are clever creatures, no doubt about that. But how do their brains really work? Given the fact that we can't really sit down and have a chat with our feline friends, it can be fascinating to learn a little bit about cat intelligence: how cats think, how they come to their unique conclusions, and what really makes them "tick."

Your Cat's Brain

Cat brains are amazing little machines. Despite the fact that they are relatively petite - measuring in at about 2 inches in length, and only weighing between 0.88 and 1.6 ounces - they are structurally quite similar to the human brain, both bearing similar lobes and cerebral cortices. Both human and feline brains are gyrencephalic. This means that they have that familiar, folded up, wavy structure that allows for more cognitive function in the relatively small confines of our respective craniums.

Additionally, the brain of a cat also contains a number of other important structures, such as the thalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and frontal lobes - just to name a few. All of these individual parts work together very efficiently in a type of hub-and-spoke network that allows the cat to build a surprisingly complex view of the world.

Your Cat's Intelligence

In terms of cat intelligence, just how smart is your furry little buddy? Well, if you followed the old-fashioned logic of brain size being in direct correlation with intellect, it would be easy to assume that cats aren't very sharp - after all, their brains make up only about 0.9% of their body mass. However, the question of brain size relative to intellect has undergone much scrutiny, and a good number of scientists have concluded that there are many variables that make up intelligence. So what does this mean for your kitty? Well, it means that that little fella of yours actually has the potential to be quite genius!

For starters, we will talk about those human-like cerebral cortices. The cerebral cortex is the outside layer of the cerebrum, and is made up of neural tissue. It serves several functions, including reasoning, decision-making, learning, and memory. A cat's brain boasts around 300 million neurons - while the visual cortex has about 51,400 neurons per cubic millimeter.

Putting this into perspective, dogs - a species revered for their brainpower - have around 160 million neurons. Of course, this isn't disparaging our canine friends. The fact is, just as with brain size, neuron count is not the sole measure of intelligence. What this count DOES indicate for felines, though, is that they have a surprising capacity for complex problem solving, rational reasoning and decision-making, better interpretation skills, and an easier time of assimilating information gained through sensations and emotions.

Your Cat's Capacity to Learn

Have you ever watched a two-year-old child try to figure out the mechanisms of a puzzle? You may notice her keenly observing her parents pressing the pieces into place. Perhaps you'll see her trying in vain to shove together the wrong shapes. Then finally, you might find yourself cheering when she finally succeeds! Well, according to a handful of studies, cat intelligence works in a similar fashion to the intelligence of our imaginary two-year-old. Much like human toddlers, cats learn by watching, imitating, and testing. Furthermore, felines are able to grasp the concept of object permanence - meaning they are pretty much impervious to the "What the Fluff" challenge!

Your Cat's Memory

When it comes to cat intelligence, memory can be a sticky subject. According to a few research projects, a cat's working memory is relatively shallow. In one study, groups of felines were tasked with finding an object hidden behind one of four boxes. They were then given "retention intervals" between 0 and 60 seconds. The result of these tests was that cats seemed to lose the ability to locate the object somewhere between the 0-30 second mark. Another project found that a cat's working memory can last up to ten minutes, provided that what they learned was through tactile - rather than visual - stimulation.

All of that said, we now come to long term memory, which is a major part of cat intelligence. Though short term memory might be a little tricky, feline's excel in storing and recalling long term recollections. This is due largely to their oh-so-fantastic cerebral cortex, which greatly impacts the processing of memory in general. Like working memory, though, kitties generally learn - and memorize - best through action rather than through visual stimuli or vocal commands.

Your Cat's Adaptability

Adaptability is an important component of cat intelligence. A feline's ability to learn and develop a certain level of comfort with new environments and situations says a lot about how his mind functions. Generally speaking, many cats have a hard time with change - due namely to their small size and perceived vulnerability. However, historically speaking, their species evolved beautifully due in part to domestication. Urban living, it turns out, provided more opportunity for enrichment that resulted in some very unique adaptive behaviors.

Because of our closeness with cats, scientists have been able to ascertain an inherent brain plasticity in our feline cohorts. This plasticity is due - at least in part - to the major adaptation necessary for domestication, as well as selective breeding. So what does all of this actually mean? Despite cats' obvious aversion to change, they are, in fact, incredibly adaptable, and this ability to habituate has created a brain that is highly moldable and capable of learning.

Your Cat's Emotional Quotient

As with people, cats are emotional creatures, and these complex feelings are yet another essential element of feline intelligence. Continuing with the theme of human-cat similarity, cat behaviorists have noted that, like us, our kitty counterparts possess an almost alarming array of personalities and temperamental traits. This is not overly surprising, given that our respective brains share quite a few similarities - in fact, our brains have about a 90% overlap. Your cat's remarkable gray matter is separated into multiple, highly-specialized sections that rapidly and efficiently communicate, thus creating a singular perception of his surroundings. This perception, of course, makes him a sensitive creature capable not only of expressing his own emotions, but also of picking up on the emotions of his housemates - pets and people included.

How to Sharpen Your Cat's Brain

So by now you already know that your cat is a brilliant creature, but like claws, cat intelligence can - and should - be sharpened. There are many ways you can stimulate your feline's mind. For instance, feeding your kitty a diet that is rich in brain-boosting nutrients - like EPA and DHA Omega Acids, antioxidants like Vitamins C and E, and novel nutrients like Luteolin and Arginine - can not only boost your fuzzy buddy's brains, but also protect them.

Another way to smarten up your kitty is to get him active. The regular styles of play are great for keeping the blood flowing through his entire body, but to help focus on his brain, incorporate puzzle toys, play treat-based hide-and-seek games, and offer unusual - but safe - items for investigation, such as cardboard mazes and paper bag tunnels.

Creating a constantly evolving, enriching environment is also great for keeping your kitty clever. Cat trees that can be changed around or in some way altered are a great, economical choice. A strategically-placed window perch - say, in front of a bird feeder or in a window facing a garden - is another inexpensive, effective solution. Finally, keeping new and old toys in constant rotation will keep your cat guessing.


Cats can be mysterious - their reasons for doing what they do may completely bewilder you - but by learning a little bit about cat intelligence, you will hopefully have acquired a better sense of who your fuzzy little buddy is and why he behaves the way he does. So what sort of eccentric genius is your cat? Tell us in the comments below!

Photo Attributions:

  1. Image "Figure 35 03 05" was cropped from original and combined with another image. Image by CNX OpenStax via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 4.0.
  2. Image "Silhouette Cat Purr Black Pet" combined with another image. Image by Elionas via Pixabay under Pixabay License.

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