Thursday, October 4, 2012
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.
• Devon Rex
• Egyptian Mau
• Japanese Bobtail
• Norwegian Forest Cat
• Russian Blue
• Turkish Angora
• Turkish Van
• American Curl
• American Wirehair
• British Shorthair
• Cornish Rex
• Maine Coon
• Scottish Fold
A few breeds just made it onto the top half of the intelligence scale, with rankings of 6 out of 10:
• American Shorthair
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