Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs?
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
Dog owners tend to believe their canines are smarter than cats since dogs are trainable and dogs will follow commands. But cat owners are always ready to debate this topic because they know cats are intelligent, just in a different way than dogs. Many cat owners can provide countless stories of the superior cognitive ability of cats and they will be the first to say dogs are friendly but cats are smart. It’s unfair to compare the intelligence of a cat to that of a dog because they are such different animals. Read on to find out more about cat intelligence.
How Smart Are Cats?
The truth is, there are very few studies about cat intelligence. We all know that cats are notorious for doing what they want, when they want. So putting cats in an environment where you expect them to complete an action on command is difficult. Because if this, it’s hard for scientists to create a study that gives cats a problem to solve which produces a right or wrong answer and has a measurable outcome. But the opposite is true for dogs – they are very cooperative test subjects and food oriented tests are most often used in canine studies since dogs like to eat!
Despite the lack of research, we do have some knowledge about cat intelligence. Quantification of intelligence is different between cats and dogs, but one way we can measure intelligence is by simply counting the number of words or commands each species can retain. From that perspective, cats can learn about one third of the amount of words that dogs can, but that is not saying one is "smarter" than the other, because that doesn't factor in body language or cat’s ability to use their own vocalizations. Cats actually have more vocalizations than dogs do, and both cats and dogs are intelligent, just in their own way. Just like dogs, cats can also respond to the facial expressions, emotions and gestures from humans. In addition, cats can decipher food puzzles like dogs. But what really makes cats stand out are the following skills:
- • Object Permanence – Cats know an object is there even if they cannot see it. They remember that their toy when under then bed when they were playing with it hours ago, even if they can no longer see it. And they definitely remember which drawer their treats are hidden in!
- • Procedural Memory – Cats learn by observation and by doing. They watch humans and then can master tasks like opening cabinet doors or turning on light switches.
It has been determined that cats have very good long-term memories. In fact, many cats can remember events for 10 years or more. Felines have the ability to associate an event or place with the emotions they felt there. So it’s no wonder that many cats tense up and feel stress the minute you walk into the vet’s office. They may very well be recalling that first trip to the office for their vaccinations! Their superior memories are also the reason they get stressed out when they see you take out a suitcase because they associate the suitcase with you leaving. But rest assured, cats can also remember positive encounters as well, specifically when food or play is included. A visit to grandma’s house where your cat enjoyed watching squirrels out the window will be retained too.
While additional study of cat intelligence is needed to determine what cats are truly capable of, we do know that cats are very smart. The fact that cats are quick to move on if they find themselves in a frustrating situation is one clue to their immense cognitive ability and decision making skills. So for all the dog owners that frequently call cats impatient and stubborn, they need to realize that cats are using their free will and choosing to do something else that makes them happy.
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