What is the Smartest Cat Breed?

October 4, 2012

By Langley Cornwell

It’s easier to measure a dog’s intelligence than a cat’s intelligence. I hope that statement doesn’t raise my cat-loving friends’ ire, but think about it: how do we measure a dog’s intelligence? Usually by noting how well a dog interacts with humans. How long it takes us to train a dog to learn what we want him to is another intelligence gauge. Same for cats. We rank a cat’s intelligence based on the interest he has in interacting with us and doing what we want him to do. Because this is the most common way of determining smart cat breeds, the breeds that are known to be more comfortable interacting with humans are often considered the smartest.

Are breeds that are commonly social, curious and active really more intelligent, or are we measuring them with an anthropomorphic prejudice?

Because cats use their acumen to solve problems relevant to cats (and not to humans), accurately measuring their intelligence or determining which breed is the smartest is difficult. We can train cats to perform simple tricks, using standard cat-training techniques coupled with healthy treats like FELIDAE TidNips. Still, humans may think some cat breeds are unable to learn on their own, but usually it’s just that the subject matter doesn’t interest the cat. Moreover, cats aren’t known to be good research subjects because, as most cat guardians know, they are not particularly cooperative. This fact makes measuring a cat’s problem-solving abilities nearly impossible.

Even so, Animal Planet took a stab at ranking the intelligence of most of the well-known cat breeds, giving each a score from one to 10. Of course, because it’s so hard to rank the intelligence of cat breeds, their data is subjective. And just like humans, there are substantial variations within a breed. Some cats are smarter than others within a breed. Those of you who have lived with more than one cat in the same house can attest to this.

Animal Planet’s Smartest Cat Breeds 

The only cat breed to achieve 10 out of 10 was the Sphynx. The list of cat breeds that received a high 9 out of 10 include (in alphabetical order, not order of intelligence):
• Balinese (essentially a long-haired Siamese)
• Bengal (a wild Asian Leopard Cat/domestic cat cross)
• Colourpoint Shorthair (a breed developed from the Siamese, and American and British Shorthairs)
• Havana Brown (a cross of Siamese and black British or American Shorthairs)
• Javanese (an Oriental Shorthair-Balinese cross)
• Oriental (developed from numerous breeds, including the Siamese)
• Siamese (a naturally occurring breed)

It’s interesting to note that all of the breeds listed above are derived from the Siamese except for the Bengal, which is a wild-domestic hybrid. Sure, Siamese cats are curious, energetic and bright but this begs the question previously posed: are breeds that are commonly social, curious and active really more intelligent, or are we measuring them with a bias? It’s hard to say.

The cat breeds that received a high 8 out of 10 include:
• Burmese
• Chartreux
• Devon Rex
• Egyptian Mau
• Japanese Bobtail
• Korat
• Norwegian Forest Cat
• Russian Blue
• Siberian
• Singapura
• Tonkinese
• Turkish Angora
• Turkish Van

The cat breeds that received a high 7 out of 10 include:
• Abyssinian
• American Curl
• American Wirehair
• British Shorthair
• Cornish Rex
• Cymric
• Maine Coon
• Manx
• Ragdoll
• Scottish Fold
• Snowshoe
• Somali

A few breeds just made it onto the top half of the intelligence scale, with rankings of 6 out of 10:
• American Shorthair
• Birman
• Bombay

The breed that ranked quite low on the scale is the Persian, receiving 4 out of 10. And the bottom-ranked breeds from the Animal Planet study are the Exotic Shorthair and the Himalayan. Their scores were a mere 3 out of 10. It’s interesting to note that both of the bottom-ranked breeds are derived from the Persian, although the Himalayan is also a Siamese cross.

Persian, Exotic Shorthair and the Himalayan cat guardians will probably take issue with these scores. Some might even cite the fact that the “Smartest Cat in the World” (unofficially) is a Persian cat named Cuty Boy. This cat has made headlines for his communication skills and his apparent ability to solve mathematical problems and understand different languages.

I’m going to ask my rescued Maine Coon mix what he thinks about all this, right after he finishes teaching me the quantum aspects of black holes both from a string theory and a general relativity approach.

What about your cat? Do you think he/she is smart? If so, please tell us why!

Top: Siamese by Tony Alter
Middle: Egyptian Mau by Liz West
Bottom: Maine Coon by Tambako the Jaguar

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Christine Whitney says:

    I have a 9 1/2 month old Eguptian Mau mix named Flicka (Swedish for girl.) I don’t know much about cat breeds but from my experience I agree with your study. I tend to compare this cat with my deceased Maine Coon, and I keep telling my fiancee that this cat seems slightly more intelligent. He only has experiences with Persians and says they just don’t get it. Lol!

  2. S says:

    I think Persian Cats are Very very Intelligent- They are quite sharp, shrewd, Proud n headstrong! They know how to manipulate their owners into doing what they want. They are loving n sweet!
    Dont understand why they scored less here! Tortoiseshell persians are even smarter!!

  3. Katrina-Anne says:

    I titally agree with your scoring of the Exotic. I have had two of theseand i must say the first was considerably more switched on than my current two year old. This cat cannot use his magnetic cat flap unless I celotape it open. Admittedly he is not oarticularly interested in going outside but will go out an ooen window then return via the open cat flap! Georgous looking but there are other behaviours that lead me to the conclusion that he is not very smart

  4. Miko Tyack says:

    I find this hilarious. My Persian cat is a quintessential Persian and she most definitely isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, I’m surprised (based on my cat specifically) that the breed even got a 4 out of 10! All that to say, my cat is really good at loving people and so are all the Persians I’ve met! 🙂 Great article!

  5. Laurian says:

    Well why doesn’t someone come up with a Cat IQ test that’s more relevant to the cat? Like seeing how long it takes to figure out how to get a treat out of a complex container. That’s always relevant to a hungry cat.

  6. Kelly says:

    I agree with this, I had a lynx that just died last week of cancer. And he knew commands, if I would say “up on the bed” he would jump on the bed to sleep. If I would say “go eat” he would go to his bowl and eat. If I called his name he would come. He was amazing. I miss him so much. He lived a wonderful short 13 years and we were so lucky that he came into our lives. We are heartbroken.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I have to say I totally agree with this study since we have the most brilliant cat I have ever met a Sphynx. He will respond to everything we say and will talk to me. He will sometimes try to speak to me in English. I watched his mouth move when I ask him something and I’m just waiting for the day he actually speaks like me. The other day he was laying on a bed and I patted a chair cushion and told him that it was a bed for him. The next day he was laying on it crashed out. He will jump up in my face and get my attention and then jump back down and sit next to his treat bowl as to tell me I want my treats. If I don’t get up he will wait a few minutes and get up in my face again but this time being more insistent that I get up and feed him. Last night I went to get some ice and something to drink and he ran up to me and sat down next to me staring up at me. I put some water down and he immediately started drinking it. He is the only cat that eats up at the table and drinks out of a glass like us. If I bring home food from the store or a restaurant he immediately gets up at the counter and sits in his chair next to everyone waiting for his meal too. Everything he does amazes me. If we even mention the word bath or if he happens to hear the bath tub water running he will take off and hide under the bed. When I finally track him down I find him under the bed hiding because he doesn’t want to get a bath. We started to spell out the word bath and he has begun to know what B A T H spells and will hide from me. I never thought I would have to get to the point of spelling out things because my cat knew what they meant and now he has learned how to spell. He can open doors and when I tell him lets go get something to eat he immediately runs downstairs and waits at the counter. I forget I have a cat because he will respond to everything I ask him to do and he has taught me his language. If I ask him if he is hungry he licks his mouth to tell me he is. Very strange for a cat. I think they may have alien DNA since they are so smart.

  8. Helen Souter says:

    Even our vet says our sweet Persian boy has the Dumb.

  9. derek carson says:

    it would have been interesting to learn what methods were used to measure the cats’ intelligence – maybe in a follow-up article?

  10. Maggie Bond says:

    So home come my big ginger male goes out, travels about 1/2 mile around the house, makes it home fine, and our Siamese went out and got lost less than 50yds away, refusing to come out from under our neighbours shed even though we were calling right next to it? Mind you, I certainly have to entertain the Siamese much more

  11. Katimae says:

    My Maine Coon is more in touch with me on an emotional level but my plain old domestic short hair has done amazingly smart things, but I most of his are more instinctual. Both know many, many words. But my Maine Coon got lost from his family as a kitten and has been with me, through some pretty bad experiences, ever since and Peter has had to survive through his own hell before he basically escaped it and showed me he needed a new home. So Sugar and I have always been connected emotionally; Peter has always needed his instincts. They’re both extremely smart -just depends on what is important to them to think about.

  12. I think you know how Zoey my Bengal feels about this…

  13. My poor CC must be a Persian in disguise…his nickname is Prince of NotSoBright, bless his little heart.

  14. I see both Hammy and I would rate 7/10. But since we’re exceptional we know that’s actually a 10/10 for us as individuals.

  15. CATachresis says:

    Interesting! Austin would say the British Shorthair Tux is the smartest by far! Or would be if they had thumbs! 🙂

  16. I think cat’s are intelligent. Some may show researchers more of that they seem to be looking for than others but that does not mean that the rest are not intelligent as well. Just my thoughts. Mine have shown some learning. I read once that cats are rather like toddlers in IQ. I tend to agree.

  17. hmacross says:

    What about those of us who look after “just a cat”? I have a big grey boy and a regular size black girl. Both are smart in their own way. They have learned to open the cupboard door and eat through the treat packages, lie across the stairs to block passage up & down, and that if they sleep on the man’s side of the bed they get kicked all night to better to sleep on the “bringer of food”‘s side.

  18. Marg says:

    We totally agree, the cats are so smart, they have us humans trained to a great degree. These cats around her sure run my life and I think that is very smart of them. Dog are a lot less demanding. Anyway, those are pretty interesting facts.

  19. Fuzzy Tales says:

    Hmm, we think any cat is smarter than a human. :-p

    After all, we have ours trained to get up between 3:30AM and 4AM every day, including weekends and holidays, to feed us and let us out into the enclosed back space. We have her trained to jump to our every whim, actually. (Thanks to angels Chumley and Annie for breaking her in for us!)

    -Nicki and Derry

    Mom’s note: Of the two boys, Nicki’s the smarter in many ways, I think. Or perhaps it’s more that he’s outdoing and confident and nosy, whereas Derry is skittish and afraid of just about everything. But sometimes you can see Nicki looking at something (usually the fence and the fence addition at the top) and puzzling it out. You can just see the wheels turning in his head. It’s scary. LOL.