Thursday, October 4, 2012

What is the Smartest Cat Breed?

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


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Interesting! Austin would say the British Shorthair Tux is the smartest by far! Or would be if they had thumbs! :)

  6. 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.

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

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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


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