The Feline Prowess
Cats are smarter than we think
Household felines sometimes demonstrate enormous intelligence, such as when they learn how to open doors. However, they sometimes make questionable choices such as chasing a laser pointer. So exactly how smart are they?
Putting catelligence to the test
Millions of years of evolution, followed up by tens of thousands in the company of humans, have instilled cats with some particular traits and mental skills. Felines have proven over time to be an intelligent bunch. Many cats can open doors and learn tricks. A quick search on Youtube would reveal cats accomplishing amazing feats — such as actually knowing how to use the family toilet and flushing it after every visit.
One thing we do know is that cats are not incompetent by any stretch. Their brains, though small, occupy about 0.9 percent of their body mass, compared to 1.2 percent for the average dog. In fact, a cat’s complex cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for information processing, contains about twice as many neurons as that of dogs. This is the area of the brain that interprets information, language, rational decision making, and complex problem-solving.
How does intelligence affect your cat’s world perception?
Cats learn by trial and error, observation and imitation. Contrary to popular belief, curiosity does not kill the cat — it just makes him smarter. If you put a cat in a strange room, he will cautiously check out every corner. This investigation provides him with valuable information about his surroundings. Kittens need no training to use a litter box and cover up their waste; once they understand where the litter box is, they will seek it out from then on.
On top of all that, a cat’s learning abilities are aided by a good memory. A cat has an enormous memory, better than that of monkeys, orangutans and, yes, even dogs, which brings us to our next question.
Are cats smarter than dogs, or even us?
There are never-ending disputes between dog people and cat people over who has the smartest pet.
Is it true that dogs are smarter than cats? Or are they ultimately outsmarting all of us humans? On the one hand, dogs are pack animals that have a strong need to follow and please their “top” dog (the human they perceive as the leader). On the other hand, the cat is a lone wolf that exhibits cleverness and adaptability in just about any circumstance. According to Psychology Today, animals who live in groups are always more intelligent than solitary animals. Hence, dogs are smarter and more sociable than cats.
Now that we have gotten canines covered, what about us homo sapiens? The brains of cats have a surface folding and structure that is very similar to that of the human brain, about ninety percent similar to be exact. Morphologically, both cat brains and human brains have cerebral cortices with similar lobes.
What about training cats to do tricks?
As cats are not known to be trained for search and rescue, police work, or bomb sniffing, most people jump to concluding to say that cats are intellectually incapable of such complex undertakings. So can they possibly be as good as these tasks as their canine counterparts? The answer may surprise you. Once attained, even if by accident or trial and error, a cat’s knowledge is retained for life, thanks to the cat’s excellent memory. Even hunting techniques buried under years of neglect in the well-fed house cat’s brain will be recalled with ease should the feline, for some reason, ever have to fend for itself.
Although they will not perform for pats on the head and “good-cat” praise from their owners, some felines, if properly motivated, can be trained to do a wide variety of tricks that range from opening doors to jumping through hoops. In what psychologists call operant conditioning, a cat will repeat a particular behaviour for a food reward. From this, we say that cats can indeed be trained to make use of a toilet.
Cat training is best achieved if the desired behaviour is fun for the cat, even more so if the person doing the training is its usual food provider. After all, even large wildcats such as lions and tigers have performed in circuses for centuries.
Clicker training is one potential method by which a cat can be trained. This form of training is a good example of operant conditioning, in which your cat learns a behaviour through the use of a reward in response to the performance of the behaviour.