What make a cat intelligent?When it comes to intelligence, cats are often compared to dogs. And, thus far, scientists have not really been able to say which species is cleverer. Last year, for example, a group of Japanese researchers demonstrated that, just like dogs, cats have an episodic memory (the ability to recall events experienced in their context). But, a few months later, another study revealed that cats had far less neurons than their four-legged friends: they were found to have just 250 million neurons, compared to 530 million for dogs.
But couldn’t you say that cats and dogs are simply intelligent in different ways? After all, as with other animals, a cat’s intellectual capacity should help them live and adapt to their environment, in other words the life of a solitary hunter in the wild or, more often today, in a domestic environment. The different "criteria" that could be used to define a cat’s intelligence are their ability to solve problems, to interact with their environment (social intelligence), and the speed with which they adapt to a new situation.
So, is your cat intelligent?
Cats develop their intelligence while they are still very young. During the first seven weeks in particular, kittens develop their intellectual abilities through contact with their mother and the other kittens in the litter. It is this initial phase of education (and not the breed of your cat) that will determine their future "intelligence". But there is also the question of personality: within the same litter, some cats will be more "alert" that their brothers and sisters.
So how can you tell whether your cat is more intelligent than the average? Behaviour specialists often list several indications: your cat communicates easily with you (they have different ways of meowing for different needs and can make themselves easily understand), they can find an object or food which has been hidden or moved, they are independent but know how to get along with other people or animals, they are able to catch insects or prey easily, etc. Not all cats tick these "boxes": they can be particularly gifted in some areas, but much less in others.
How can you improve your cat’s intelligence?
If you get the impression your cat isn’t really a bright spark, don’t fret! Just like with humans, you can stimulate your cat’s intelligence. First of all, it’s important to note that a smart cat, is a healthy cat. If your cat is fed a poorly-balanced diet or if they suffer from certain psychological disorders (such as anxiety or depression), it can affect their intellectual abilities. To boost your cat’s intelligence, you can take a number of different measures. First, you can rearrange their environment, so that they are stimulated by their surroundings.
You can then increase the number of games you play with them or use the "clicker training" technique, opting for activities that will stimulate their intelligence: for example, make your cat play fetch with a ball or find a treat hidden under a piece of paper/in a cup. And remember what we said at the beginning of this article: cats tend to ignore activities that they don’t find interesting. Finally, remember to give them a small treat (like some of their favourite food) to increase their motivation!