What is intelligence ? Or rather, what are the different characteristics of a kind of intelligence ?
Intelligence is a very complex concept that is still poorly defined : for the moment there is no scientific consensus for a precise definition. In fact, genetics, substances ingested by the mother during pregnancy, nutrition, or even the environment have an influence on the development of intelligence, which leaves thousands of possibilities for a kitten to become a feline genius… or not.
For us, intelligence is the ability to understand, learn and adapt to new situations, and to modify our environment to adapt to our needs.
It took a long time for the notion of animal intelligence to be accepted and measured under correct conditions : animals were first subjected to tests similar to those carried out on children. This is of course biased because it completely ignores the specific needs of different species and the environment in which they operate. Is an elephant’s intelligence measured by his ability to climb trees, or a human’s intelligence measured by his ability to hunt mice in a field ?
How do I know if my cat is smart or not ?
That’s the question ! So we have prepared a brief overview of several characteristics of feline intelligence :
- Is your cat creative ? Has he found a way to open the cupboard you thought was inviolable ?
- Does your cat have the ability to focus ? Can he stay for hours to watch for the lizard that got under the cabinet, or stalk from the bushes ?
- Does your cat have a good memory ? If it’s an outdoor cat, does he know how to find the way home ?
- Does your cat have the ability to form concepts ? For example, wings + black + bzzz = fly = yummy, wings + striped black and yellow + bzzz = wasp = ouch, DANGEROUS
- Is your cat able to learn new behaviors ?
– by direct experience : not react by hearing the vacuum cleaner, go to the kitchen when the fridge door opens at the end of the day, meow hard enough and long enough for a human to give me a treat, play with me or open the door to me, discover the hidden treats in a game board, …
– by transmission : kill a prey by observing how a more experienced cat makes, open a door by pressing the handle, …
- Does your cat know how to use his body with precision ? Is he skilled ? Can he use his claws or teeth to open a bag of treats ?
- Does your cat show emotional intelligence ? Does he recognize your emotions and act differently based on them ?
If you answered YES to most of these questions, no doubt, your cat is smart ! A specific training can even help him develop amazing abilities.
Cats and their humans are, however, equal in the face of aging in the sense that this phenomenon can impair their cognitive abilities.
To learn more about it…
To learn more about animal intelligence, we recommend « Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are ? », Frans De Waal, 2016.
For more information on cat learning, we recommend « The Trainable Cat : How to Make Life Happier for You and Your Cat », John Bradshaw, 2016.
These are two books that we found very comprehensive, interesting, and easy to read.
What manifestations of intelligence did you observe in your cat ? Tell us in your comments !