Over the years, I’ve had plenty of conversations with non-pet owners telling me why dogs and cats aren’t intelligent. I’d love to know where they get their facts from, because there have been many times I’ve racked my brain trying to outsmart a pet. We may be smarter, but there are times when a pet’s intelligence – or their persistence – presents us with a challenge.
The Window Screen Incident
I love the smells of spring, and when nighttime temperatures stay in the upper 60′s, I leave my screened windows open day and night. It’s not clear why my cat Bailey waged war on my bedroom window screens, but it quickly became a challenge to stop her. Bailey is persistent like any feline, but she takes it to a whole new level. She had already destroyed one screen in the middle of the night. I caught her as she was going through it, and begrudgingly closed the bedroom window. I opened the other window since an inspection of the screen found no holes or defects. Problem solved? Nope! Bailey started in on that screen. So I closed the window just enough to keep her out, or so I thought. She managed to squeeze in behind it and got trapped between the window and screen.
Accepting the challenge of outsmarting my cat, I was determined that this window was going to stay open, and she wasn’t going to destroy it. However, she got around all of my fixes. I finally built a barrier out of wood and wire that sat in front of the screen, and was confident I had won. Yeah, in my dreams! She could climb on top of the barrier and slip behind it, which left her pushed up against the screen. I added a block of wood on top of the barrier to stop her from climbing over it, but she found a gap to wiggle through. An old slipper wedged in the gap finally did the trick! Read More »
As instructed, I posed this question to my animal-loving friends: What’s the smartest thing your cat has ever done? I received lots of fun answers.
Many cats have learned how to manage without opposable thumbs. Chris once had a Persian cat who would turn door knobs with her paws so she could go outside. Dana’s cat could open door knobs and pull the door open towards him. And Priscilla’s cat Peppy opens the kitchen cabinet by using his front paws and pulling the door open in order to help himself to his own food.
Juniper’s cat loved attention and knew how to get it. He would pet himself to show that he wanted someone to pet him. He would rub one paw on top of his head while meowing frantically until someone would understand what he was “saying” and would pet him. If he did it for a while and the person still didn’t pet him, he would start petting them by repeatedly stroking their thigh with his paw. That’s pretty impressive language for a cat!
My friend Charles and his wife have three indoor cats, Maggie, Sally and Daisy, as well as two outdoor boys, Spinner and Webster. Two of the girl cats have learned how to team up to pilfer food. Maggie, an eight pound shorthair tuxedo, throws herself incessantly at the door handle until she is able to hang on to it just long enough to cause the door to open. Daisy, a big 17 pounder, then goes to work on the FELIDAE bag. Whether it takes 30 minutes or several hours, Daisy gnaws away at the bag until she is able to tear open a hole in the side big enough to let the kibble cascade onto the floor. They then feast until their humans catch them, at which point they scatter like the wind.
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)
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