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How much is the IQ of a cat?

Cats are known for being intelligent, independent animals. They can navigate complex environments, solve problems, and even manipulate humans to get what they want. But just how smart are cats compared to other animals or humans? Can we put a number to feline intelligence?

What is IQ and how is it measured?

IQ stands for “intelligence quotient” and it aims to measure intelligence. The most common IQ tests used for humans are a series of written exams focused on areas like math, logic, language skills and spatial awareness. The most widely used IQ tests today are:

  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
  • Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
  • Raven’s Progressive Matrices

These tests are designed for humans and rely on our ability to understand and follow verbal and written instructions. As a result, they cannot be used to directly test animal intelligence. However, researchers have devised various ways to get around this limitation and develop IQ tests for certain animals.

Animal IQ tests

Animal intelligence is usually measured using behavioral tests, not written exams. Some common measurements are:

  • Discrimination learning – Can the animal distinguish between different stimuli or scearios? How quickly can they learn the differences?
  • Spatial memory – How well can they remember and navigate through space, like a maze?
  • Tool use – Can they manipulate objects in their environment to help them solve problems?
  • Counting – What’s the highest number of objects they can distinguish between?
  • Social cognition – How well do they understand social relationships in their groups?

By testing skills like these, researchers can get an idea of how intelligent certain animal species are compared to others. However, these types of direct behavioral tests also have limitations when trying to compare intelligence across very different species.

Interspecies IQ comparisons

One way scientists attempt to compare intelligence across very different species is by estimating brain weight and structure. Generally, larger brains with more complex neural connections correlate with higher intelligence. Some research shows that:
– Brain size compared to body size is a useful metric. Animals with larger brains for their body size tend to show more intelligent behaviors.
– The neocortex region is linked to higher cognition. The ratio of neocortex to the rest of the brain is important as well.

Based on brain size and structure comparisons, human IQ is estimated to be around 100. Chimpanzees score between 25 and 70. Dolphins come in at around 60. And cats have been estimated to have an IQ of between 90 and 110.[1]

However, these interspecies estimates are rough approximations at best. We cannot directly compare IQ scores between two very different species the way scores are compared between humans. The testing methods and mental capabilities required are simply too different.

Cat intelligence compared to other pets

It’s easier to get an idea of how cats compare to common pet species since we observe them in similar household environments and can test them with more comparable methods. Here is how cats generally stack up in intelligence against other pets:

Animal IQ Estimate Key Cognitive Abilities
Border Collie Up to 200 Fast learning, problem solving, communication, memory
Cat 90-110 Memory, learning, observation, manipulation
Golden Retriever 60-70 Communication, memory, obedience
Rabbit 50-60 Reasoning, observational learning
Rat 20-40 Problem solving, memory, social learning
Mouse 15-25 Maze navigation, imprinting, conditioning
Goldfish 5-10 Color discrimination, bindings

As you can see, cats clearly outrank other common housepets like dogs, rabbits, rodents and fish when it comes to overall smarts. But why are cats considered so intelligent compared to other animals we interact with regularly?

Key signs of high cat intelligence

There are several key abilities and behaviors that signify feline intelligence:

  • Excellent memory – Cats can remember learned behaviors for years. Once they learn a trick, they don’t forget it easily.
  • Fast learning – Cats can grasp cause and effect relationships very quickly. If a behavior results in a reward like food or play, they pick up on it in as little as a few repetitions.
  • Strong observational skills – Cats notice minute details and changes in their surroundings. They can learn a lot just from keen observation.
  • Problem-solving – Cats are great at assessing situations and manipulating objects and humans to get what they want. They can figure out tricks like opening doors on their own.
  • Understanding emotions – Cats seem to recognize human emotional cues and respond differently based on mood or tone of voice.

Cat intelligence studies and research

In addition to casual observations of pet cat behavior, there have been some scientific studies analyzing cat intelligence:

  • A 2018 study tested cats’ ability to understand cause and effect relationships and found they could make inferences based on complex interactions between objects.[2]
  • Research in 2016 showed cats can interpret human gestures to find hidden food, recognizing cues like pointing or gazing.[3]
  • Experiments have demonstrated cats understand their own names and other words humans use regularly with them.[4]
  • Studies of brain structure show cats have large, complex brains and a high number of cortical neurons, especially in the visual processing center.[5]

While more research is still needed, these types of studies demonstrate advanced cognitive and learning abilities that place cats above many other domesticated animals.

Why are cats so smart?

There are a few key reasons why cats have evolved such intelligence compared to other common pets:

  • Predatory skills – Cats are natural hunters and must be able to outsmart prey like birds, rodents and lizards. Their excellent observational and problem-solving abilities help them succeed as predators.
  • Scavenging abilities – Cats are opportunistic scavengers as well. The flexibility to spot and take advantage of random food sources also requires sharp smarts.
  • Social dynamics – While less social than dogs, cats still form relationships and hierarchies with other cats and humans in the home. This requires social cognition and communication.
  • Domestication – Although domesticated, cats are only semi-domesticated. They have lived more independently of humans than some pets, retaining natural abilities and intelligence.

In summary, the predatory and observational skills cats evolved in the wild have been retained even with domestication. And their still-independent nature means those powers of intellect remain strong.

Factors affecting cat IQ

While cats as a species are clearly intelligent, there can be variation between individual cats in terms of smarts. Some factors that influence IQ in cats are:

  • Breed – Some cat breeds like the Siamese are thought to be more intelligent on average.
  • Environment – Cats raised in more stimulating environments with training perform better on cognitive tests.
  • Diet – Nutrition can impact brain development and functioning.
  • Age – IQ peaks around middle age and may start decreasing in elderly cats as they experience cognitive decline.
  • Health – Illnesses that affect the brain, like tumors or infections, can impair cognition.
  • Litter size – Some research suggests cats from smaller litters do better on cognitive tests.

So while the average cat is quite smart, an individual cat’s intelligence can vary based on factors like breeding, training, health and more. A stimulating home environment helps them reach their cognitive potential.


When it comes to quantifying intelligence across very different species, we have to take interspecies IQ estimates with a grain of salt. However, evidence clearly shows that cats possess cognitive abilities above many other domesticated animals. Their inquisitive nature, flexibility, observational skills, memory and problem-solving abilities signify high intelligence compared to pets like rabbits, rodents and fish.

While we can’t administer human IQ tests, behavioral research supports the conclusion that the typical domestic cat has an IQ in the range of 90-110. Precise numbers aside, one thing is certain – never underestimate the brainpower of a cat!