How Smart is My Cat?

Intelligence of Cats

Genetics, environment, and other trainability factors play a role in a cat’s level of intelligence. But much depends on how intelligence is defined. Judging any animal’s level of intelligence is based on its trainability. It’s the speed of learning and recall of that task that is used as a marker.

Before asking a cat to jump through a hoop, fetch Dad’s slippers, or write a test for feline MENSA…

Smart Genes Help but Environment is Key

Attributes such as curiosity and sociability are gained from genetics and the environment. A cat who originates from lines that include these characteristics, and a cat who lives in a healthy, happy, stimulating home, will be capable of scoring high trainability points. It is trainability that leads the cat to excel at commonly-used intelligence tests.

Even the brightest kitten from the best gene pool can’t be expected to excel in intelligence if his home life doesn’t provide an encouraging environment. The environment is key.

Trainability is Revealed through Observation

The only way to judge a cat’s trainability is to spend time with it. Watch how it relates to people, other animals, and items in its environment. A curious and outgoing cat who can focus on one toy or one game or one individual for an extended period of time will probably be the best candidate.

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An affectionate cat can be a good indication, too. A cat who feels secure and bonded with a human is more willing to “let his hair down” and try new things, knowing that the human has only his best interests at heart.

Determining a Cat’s Level of Intelligence Depends on the Definition of the Word

Judging a cat’s I.Q. is very subjective. Just about any dog can be trained to successfully navigate a maze, for instance, with food treats as a reward. A cat, on the other hand, would likely enter the maze, sniff a few corners, then sit down and start washing.

Is this a smart dog and a stupid cat? As animal behaviorists note, dogs and cats view their worlds in entirely different ways. While some people see that cat as dim-witted because she couldn’t find her way out of the maze, others see the same cat as a bright star – she saw the maze as another example of human folly and was smart enough to refuse to play the game.

Intelligence Tests to Suit the Species

It’s probable that a search will continue to find a test suitable to both dogs and cats, therefore creating the ability to compare two distinct species as one group. Anyone who has experience with both cats and dogs knows that’s not a workable or fair scenario.

Rating intelligence in a dog is accomplished by measuring its abilities against those of other dogs when given the same tests. Rating a cat’s intelligence, however, is best accomplished by comparing its own progress.

Motivation According to Species

While human praise is a sufficient motivator for most dogs, cats can be more difficult to move. Each cat needs to be observed to discover its unique stimulants. Some may need only a treat and praise while others require additional “carrots” to get them moving. Generally, a dog’s motivator is a happy human. A cat’s motivator is a happy cat.

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Without the right motivator to train that particular cat, its intelligence can’t be measured.

Can an Old Cat Learn New Tricks?

Absolutely. Every cat, regardless of age, retains “smart” brain cells that can be revived in the right environment. Even a lazy cat who spends most of its life lying on the couch is capable of demonstrating its intelligence. With the right environment, the right carrots, and a committed owner, just about any cat can learn to prove its trainability and, therefore, claim its place on the intelligence scale.

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