Every cat owner knows that you don’t have to observe the animals for long to know they are highly intelligent beings.
Despite having relatively small brains, studies have shown felines have high emotional intelligence and a great willingness to adapt, making them some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom.
But how to breeds stack up when it comes to intelligence?
As a study this month revealed the most intelligent breeds of dogs, we delve into which breeds of cats can be crowned the cleverest.
These are the smartest cat breeds according to science, with the Abyssinian cat coming in at first place
How to test your cat’s intelligence
There are a number of ways you can test how smart your cat is:
Does it respond to its own name?
People tend to assume that cat’s cannot learn their own names, unlike dogs.
But research from Sophia University in Japan revealed that cats do recognise when their name is being called.
You can tell if your cat knows their name by a slight movement of the tail or a twitch of an ear.
Does it know what time it is?
Obviously, like most animals, cats know when it is day and night.
But they are also likely to learn their mealtimes, being able to tell when it is time for you to get up and feed them breakfast.
This is called associative learning and indicates that domestic cats have adapted to living with people.
Does it pick up on your emotions?
While cats are often assumed to be cold animals compared to our friendly dogs, research has shown they do understand human emotion.
Dr Kristyn Vitale, from Oregon State University, tested cats to see if they would pick up on owner’s feeling fearful or joyful.
She placed a cat in front a fan with streamers then asked the owner to act either frightened or happy.
The more socially intelligent the cat, the more likely it was to react to the emotions expressed.
Can your cat learn basic commands?
While we teach our dogs to sit, stay, and lie down, many think there is not point teaching cats.
Some cats, however, can learn basic commands, including sit, stand and come.
One Dr Vitale’s cats can even jump, do a high-five and ring a service bell.
Source: Purely Pets
While there is no standardized test to measure intelligence in cats, researchers have looked at how cats’ ability to adapt, their curiosity levels and their need for mental stimulation correlates with their intelligence.
Studies have also looked into their sociability with humans and other pets, as well as their willingness to interact with their owners.
Speaking to MailOnline, Samantha Watson, Scientific Officer at the RSPCA, explained that measuring intelligence in cats is complex.
She said: ‘Scientifically speaking, there is no universal measure of “intelligence” in animals.
‘Each species has evolved to adapt to a different niche.
‘A mental ability that is useful for one species may not benefit the survival of another.
‘Some evidence indicates that particular cat breeds may have tendencies to be more active or friendly with people.
‘However, every cat is a unique individual, and there is significant variation within those breeds.
‘Every cat has a unique personality, which is shaped by both their genetics and life history.’
Some of the most intelligent cat breeds
The Abyssinian cat, which has large ears and small oval feet, is thought to be one the smartest cat in the world.
Originally from southeast Asia, Abyssinians are not known for being the cuddliest breed, so if you are looking for a lap cat, it’s probably best to steer clear.
Abyssinians, however, are renowned for their high levels of intelligence and inquisitiveness.
The cats require mental stimulation, so owners are encouraged to keep a variety of toys and puzzles to make sure their cat is occupied, experts from Purina said.
The pet company added that the breed is sometimes referred to as ‘Aby-grabbys’ as ‘they tend to take things that grab their interest’.
The cats can often be found investigating small areas or climbing up trees and walls.
While known for their independence, the cats are happiest when with another Abyssinian cat to provide entertainment while you are out of the house.
The breed also gets on with cat-friendly dogs, children and other pets such as parrots and ferrets.
According to a study in 2021 conducted by the University of Helsinki, Abyssinians were also the least fearful of 26 cat breeds studied.
The Abyssinian cat, which has large ears and small oval feet, is thought to be one the smartest cat in the world
The study, first published on MDPI, looked at a database of more than 4,300 cats representing 26 breed groups to identify the different personality and behaviour traits.
Throughout the process seven personality traits were identified – playfulness, fearfulness, aggression towards humans, sociability towards humans, sociability towards cats, litterbox issues and excessive grooming.
Professor Hannes Lohi from the university’s Folkhälsan Research Center said: ‘The most fearful breed was the Russian Blue, while the Abyssinian was the least fearful.
‘The Bengal was the most active breed, while the Persian and Exotic were the most passive.
‘The breeds exhibiting the most excessive grooming were the Siamese and Balinese, while the Turkish Van breed scored considerably higher in aggression towards humans and lower in sociability towards cats.’
The Bengal cat, which has distinctive leopard-like markings, is regularly listed as one of the most intelligent cat breeds.
Known for their good memory, the cats can easily learn tricks and are able to work out how to open cupboard doors.
Similar to the Abyssinian cat, it is important that these smart kitties are mentally stimulated as otherwise they can become destructive around the home, according to Bengal Cat Care.
The Bengal cat, known for its leopard-like markings, is regularly listed as one of the most intelligent cat breeds, known for its good memory and hunting skills
Some of the most intelligent cat breeds
Based on factors including sociability, curiosity, and willingness to adapt judgements, the most intelligent cat breeds are:
- Abyssian cats
- Bengal cats
- Burmese cats
- Cornish rex cats
- Scottish fold cats
- Singapura cats
- Siamese cats
- Turkish Angora
- Japanese Bobcat
While there is no concrete evidence, it has been suggested that the reason Bengals are so intelligent is because of their ancestral relation to the Asian Leopard Cat.
The Asian Leopard Cat is a small animal, known for its excellent hunting and climbing skills. It is also able to swim, although avoids the water – just as our furry friends do.
The wild cat is hyperaware of its surroundings – a trait that has likely been passed down to the Bengal cat.
Some Bengal cats have the capability to walk on a leash, like a dog, or even know how to high five.
They are one of the most trainable cat breeds and appear to have a good memory, being able to remember where treats or food is hidden.
Like Abyssinians, Bengals can become destructive, extremely talkative or even depressed if they become bored or not stimulated enough.
It is their intelligence that can put some people off wanting a Bengal, however.
Last year, TikTok famous @ben.the.vet listed Bengals as the top cat breed he would avoid getting.
He said: ‘They are beautiful looking cats, they have gorgeous coats, I can see why people like them.
‘But, what a lot of people aren’t aware of, is that they’re a hybrid between a type of wild cat called Asian Leopard Cat, and domestic cat breeds. So they’re still quite wild in terms of their behaviour and temperament.
‘And at the vets they have a reputation for being quite aggressive.
‘Usually, it’s our fear that they can actually be really quite dangerous to handle.
‘They’re highly intelligent, they need a lot of stimulation and unfortunately, a lot of homes just aren’t right for them.’
Others however, are set on the breed, with one owner loving its Bengal so much it has decided to travel the world with it.
Mia, the two-year-old cat, has been aboard a plane, boat and care, and is able to perform a number of tricks and listen to commands
YouTuber Albert Colominas, 35, lives in New York but travels the world with his two-year-old Bengal cat Mia. While cats usually won’t go anywhere near water, Albert took Mia onto a lake in a rowing boat (right) and Mia looking out over the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona (left)
YouTuber Albert Colominas, 35, lives in New York but travels the world with his two-year-old Bengal cat Mia.
The clever, ‘brave’ and ‘curious’ feline has travelled all over the world, including to Mexico, Arizona, Greece and the Pyrenees.
The Bengal cat also has proved popular with Hollywood stars, with actor Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin owning three – a young charcoal Bengal called Camilla Valenciana Azul, a brown Bengal called Emilio and a snow coloured Bengal called Cayetana.
Alec and Hilaria Baldwin have three Bengal cats. A young charcoal Bengal called Camilla Valenciana Azul, a brown Bengal called Emilio and a snow coloured Bengal called Cayetana (pictured)
The Bengal cat has also proved popular with Hollywood stars, with actor Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin owning three. Emilio went missing in November 2021 but was found hours later with a broken leg. Pictured: Emilio after being found with a broken leg (left) and following his recovery (right)
Burmese cats are another breed that are among the smartest, thriving off companionship with other felines as well as humans.
This is an ‘energetic, curious and playful’ breed, according to Purina, that ‘loves interactive toys and learning new tricks’.
Unlike Abyssinians and Bengals, these cats crave attention, often found following their owners around, curling up on their laps and trying to sleep in your bed, with people claiming they have a dog-like nature.
Burmese cats are another breed that are among the smartest, thriving off companionship with other felines as well as humans
Some have even dubbed them the ‘velcro cat’ as they want to spend as much time around people as possible and are unsuited to being isolated – if left alone for hours they can develop stress behaviours like aggressive grooming.
These sociable cats are known for being very talkative and are even able to learn games like fetch.
Their chatty nature links back to their Siamese cat ancestors, who are known for their intelligence and vocal behaviour.
While Burmese cats have a much softer, sweeter meow, if you are looking for a peaceful pet, Burmese might not be the one to choose.
The best way to keep a Burmese cat content is by being in close proximity to their owners.
Leanne Lilly, an assistant professor at Ohio State University’s medial center told Daily Paws: ‘Data suggests Burmese coat-patterned cats are more playful and the breed overall [tends] to be more likely to have prey interest.’
In 2016, Cabinet Member Penny Mordaunt was given a slap on the wrist for bringing in her Burmese cat, called Titania, into Parliament to hunt for mice in the infested halls of Westminster.
In 2016, Cabinet Member Penny Mordaunt was given a slap on the wrist for bringing in her Burmese cat, called Titania, into Parliament to hunt for mice in the infested halls of Westminster
The MP for Portsmouth, and now leader of the House of Commons, wrote on Twitter at the time: ‘A great believer in credible deterrence, I’m applying the principle to the lower ministerial corridor mouse problem.’
The silver-grey cat was seen climbing on chairs and looking under Parliamentary desks.
But the Serjeant-at-Arms told Ms Mordaunt she must not do it again, because all animals are forbidden on the parliamentary estate other than guide dogs or police dogs.
CORNISH REX CAT
The Cornish Rex cat is an athletic breed known for its ability to climb, jump and sprint, so requires enough room to exercise.
It has a small, whippet-like body and is an active pet within households.
Expressing the same character trait as Burmese cats, Cornish Rexes love to be with their owner and can even be trained to walk on a lead.
They are extremely high-energy and have been compared with Border Collies, known to be one of the most energetic and intelligent dog breeds, requiring a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
The Cornish Rex cat is an athletic breed known for its ability to climb, jump and sprint, so requires enough room to exercise
Chyrle Bonk, a vet at Petkeen told Daily Paws: ‘Cornish rexes may be seen as the border collie of the cat world.
‘They’re always on the move and do better if they have a job to do.
‘While they really enjoy playing with you, interactive toys, such as battery-operated mice, puzzle toys or maze toys can help keep them entertained when you can’t play with them’.
The cat is a relatively new breed, with the first Cornish Rex kitten born in 1950 from a barn cat and an unknown species.
The owner, Nina Ennismore, who made the discovery named it Cornish Rex as the curly haired coat resembled the fur of the Astrex rabbits she also raised and exhibited.
SCOTTISH FOLD CAT
With their unique folded ears, these unusual looking cats, are among the smartest breeds.
They crave human interaction and want to be challenged, so puzzles and toys are an essential.
The unusual looking Scottish Fold cat are among the smartest of the species. They crave human interaction and want to be challenged, so puzzles and toys are an essential
As is common with other intelligent cats they do not like to be left alone, so it’s preferred to have another cat or cat-friendly dogs.
Despite their intelligence, they are much less active than other cat breeds so owners need to be aware of the already-rounded cats getting overweight.
The strange looking feline is popular among some celebrities – including Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran.
Swift has shared many photos of her Scottish Folds, named Meredith Grey, Olivia Benson and Benjamin Button.
Scottish Folds, which owe their distinctive appearance to a genetic disorder, could be banned if animal campaigners get their way. Pictured: Taylor Swift with one of her her cats
Pictured: Taylor Swift’s cat Olivia Benson – she also has two other cats called Meredith Grey and Benjamin Button
And while their unusual features make them seem sweet, the welfare charity Cats Protection issued a warning that the breed should be banned.
This is because the only reason they have such a distinctive appearance is because of a genetic disorder that results in health problems.
The cartilage in the ears of Scottish Folds is abnormally weak due to a hereditary condition called osteochondrodysplasia, which causes defective cartilage elsewhere in their body, especially the joints.
This means they get crippling arthritis at a younger age than other cat breeds.
The cartilage in the ears of Scottish Folds is abnormally weak due to a hereditary condition called osteochondrodysplasia, which causes defective cartilage elsewhere in their body, especially the joints
Sometimes called the ‘pesky people’s cat’, this highly intelligent breed is extremely energetic.
The Singapura cat is an attention seeking breed that thrives when in the company of humans.
This cat requires a high-level of enrichment, according to Purina, in the form of hunting games or interactive play.
Singapura cats are sometimes called the ‘pesky people’s cat’ this highly intelligent breed is extremely energetic
How to spot separation anxiety in a cat
Intelligence in cats is often linked to how sociable the pet is and how willing they are to interact with their owner.
Some cats, however, are so sociable they suffer from separation anxiety when their owner is away.
The symptoms include:
- Not using the litter tray
- Change in mood
- Increase in vocalistion (meowing)
- A change in appetite or weight
- Following people around the house
- Increased lethargy
Despite being the smallest domestic cat breed, it needs plenty of access to large amounts of outdoor space to keep happy, so would not be suitable as a house pet.
The Cat Fancier’s Association is the world’s largest registry of pedigree cats, set up in 1906.
Iris Tanner, a judge at the annual competition, told Animal Planet that the the Singapura is ‘a powerful, assertive cat with a lot of personality.
‘Don’t think of it as the little cat’.
Known for its beauty, the Siamese cat is also one of the most intelligent of the breeds.
Just like its close relative, the Burmese cat, it can be trained to walk on a lead and respond to basic commands.
These cats are good problem solvers, so need puzzles to provide mental stimulation or play time with their owner to keep them content.
They have strong personalities and are deemed intelligent as they are very interactive with their owners.
Due to their sociable nature, Siamese cats often form a strong attachment to their owner, which means they often suffer from separation anxiety and might be better in pairs, or when someone is at home all the time.
Siamese cats are also very chatty and create a loud cry, more so than other talkative breeds.
One Siamese cat was caught gently rocking back and forth a tiny baby’s bouncer, curiously watching the baby before glancing back at the owner.
Another Siamese spotted a one-year-old crawling towards a flight of stairs in Bogota, Colombia, and jumped off its comfy chair, leaping over the the young boy and pushing him away from danger.
Known for its beauty, the Siamese cat is also one of the most intelligent of the breeds
One of the most intelligent cats is the Turkish Angora, which is full of energy and affection. The rare cat is extremely affectionate and is known for its problem solving skills.
The clever cats can easily follow basic demands and are very sociable, showing similar traits to Burmese cats.
If they are not using their high energy up, they can cause trouble within the home, with some able to open cupboards and even turn on the tap.
As with Siamese cats, they do not like to be left alone for long stints of time and are very dependent on the companionship of their owners.
One of the most intelligent cats full of energy and affection. The rare Turkish Angora cat is extremely affectionate and is known for its problem solving skills
JAPANESE BOBTAIL CAT
Japanese Bobtails were one of the first cats in the world recorded, and also happen to be one of the smartest.
Like dogs, these cats are able to learn commands like ‘fetch’ as well as a number of tricks. They often bring people toys regularly in an attempt to play.
It is also one cat breed intelligent enough to learn its name and respond to it, according to pet food provider Hills.
The playful and curious cat requires both outdoor and indoor space, to play outside and socialise.
It is not as talkative as a Siamese or Burmese cat either.
Akin to other clever cats, this furry being also likes to spent a lot of quality time with their owner, following them around like a shadow.
Japanese Bobcat’s were one of the first cats in the world recorded and they happen to be one of the smartest
The ultimate question: Are cats or dogs more intelligent?
It is the age-old question that scientists have been mulling over for years – are cats or dogs more intelligent?
One study conducted by Suzana Herculano-Houzel at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro looked into the number neurons in the human brain compared with cats and dogs.
The study found that while the average human cerebral cortexes has 16 billion neurons, dogs on average have 429 million neurons, while cats have 250 million neurons.
At the time she told PBS: ‘Neurons are the basic information processing units.
‘The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is.
‘We definitely need more research on this topic before we can definitively state how meaningful brain size is as a measure of intelligence across different animal groups.’
A study at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, showed when animals were presented with puzzles, cats stuck at it until it was solved whereas dogs begged for help of their owners.
Researchers at Oxford University, on the other hand, published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that dogs are more sociable and more intelligent than cats, as they have bigger brains.
It said cats on the other hand are more solitary and less intelligent as they have smaller brains.
Susanne Shultz, who led the research, told the Telegraph at the time: ‘Dogs have always been regarded as the more social animals while cats like to get on with their own thing alone.
‘But it appears that interaction is good for the brain and extends to other species, like ourselves.’
Back in 1876, however, cats were deemed so intelligent that the Belgian Society for the Elevation of the Domestic Cat trained cats to deliver letters.
It found that the fastest cats could deliver post between towns in five hours, with all of the 37 cats trialed making it back within 24 hours.
So dog and cat owners can have it out about which pet really is the smartest – some scientists even believe it is an unfair comparison.
Brian Hare, founder of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Centre said in an interview when asked the question by PBS: ‘Asking which species is smarter is like asking if a hammer is a better tool than a screwdriver.
‘Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course it depends on the problem we are trying to solve.’
There is also the caveat that dogs have been domesticated animals for far longer than cats, which could be a reason for why they are much more sociable and willing to please humans over our feline friends.
If you enjoyed this article …
How does YOUR pup stack up? As the Belgian Malinois is named the world’s most intelligent breed, experts reveal the DUMBEST dogs – with Afghan Hounds, Bulldogs and Chow Chows topping the list
Who’s a clever boy! Belgian malinois is named the world’s most intelligent dog… so does YOURS make the list?
First domesticated cats traced back 12,000 years to the Mediterranean’s ‘Fertile Crescent region’ near modern-day Iraq: Early farmers kept felines to ward off pests
The least intelligent dog breeds
The following were ranked lowest by Professor Stanley Coren in his book ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’. They had they lowest of obedience intelligence, an ability to learn from humans. Mastiff and Beagle were ranked joint 8th.
Afghan Hound was named as the least intelligent, followed by the Basenji, the Bulldog and the Chow Chow
11. Shih Tzu
10. Basset Hound
4. Chow Chow
1. Afghan Hound