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3 Reasons Why Cats Are Smarter Than People Think

Your cat doesn’t come when you call her name. She knocks over your water glass every time you set it on the coffee table. She wakes you up at 3 AM with a paw in the face—for no apparent reason.

If you’re like most cat owners, you’ve probably asked yourself this question more than once:

Are cats secret geniuses—or just adorably clueless?

There have been hundreds of studies on canine intelligence, and humans turn to dogs for help on everything from search and rescue missions to detecting cancer. But when it comes to cat intelligence, there’s a lot we don’t know. The reason? Cats are notoriously uncooperative and unpredictable—but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart.

How Smart Are Cats? Pretty Smart.

1. A Cat’s Brain is Extremely Complex.

The feline brain makes up just 0.9% of their body weight, compared to about 1.2% for dogs, and 2% for people. But, their brains are structurally complex—almost as complex as humans’. They have almost twice as many neurons in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain associated with thinking and decision-making, than dogs. In this way, they way your cat makes decisions and experiences emotions is much more similar to humans.

2. Cats Have Great Short-Term Memory.

A behavioral experiment showed that cats could remember where a bowl of food had been hidden for up to 16 hours. Dogs, on the other hand, tended to top out at 5 minutes. That’s likely why cats also tend to be more persistent when they want something, and more likely to hold a grudge when they don’t get it.

3. Cats are Skilled at Interpreting Our Thoughts and Moods.

One of the things that sets humans apart from most other animals is our ability to guess what other people are thinking and feeling based on non-verbal cues. At least one study showed that cats are also able to respond to humans’ cues, such as pointing. Cat experts say our furry friends hone this skill as they get older, which is why senior cats are good at knowing when it’s time to snuggle (you’re calm on the couch) and when they might want to leave you alone (you’re frustrated).

Although cats may be smart, they aren’t motivated by social rewards the way dogs are. Cats are also less determined and more easily frustrated than our canine companions. In other words, cats are too smart (and stubborn) to always do what they’re told.