As long as people have shared their homes with pets, dog and cat lovers have debated which animal is more intelligent. Canine enthusiasts tout that dogs have been trained and bred for thousands of years to herd, hunt, assist, protect, perform tricks and obey verbal commands. Cat aficionados, on the other hand, say that cats are simply too smart to do the sort of tricks that dogs eagerly perform. Whereas dogs have been bred for utility, cats have been bred mostly for appearance, leading many to believe that dogs have superior intellectual capabilities. But, really, is it feasible to accurately compare the intelligence of these two species?
Despite their similarities, cats and dogs are very different animals. Dogs are social animals, are motivated by a hierarchical, pack-oriented instinct. They will perform purely for praise, especially from whomever they consider their pack leader. Conversely, cats are highly specialized carnivores who generally lead solitary lives in the wild. In domestic settings, they are not motivated by social status. Most are not even motivated by food. But, why is that?
In the wild, if obtaining a particular source of food is too much work, cats will generally cut their losses and go in search of easier prey. Whereas wild dog packs will cooperatively pursue prey for miles, a wild cat tends to conserve energy, lying in wait to ambush prey. The untrained observer may interpret this as laziness or a lack of motivation, however animal behaviorists know that this represents a brilliant evolutionary adaptation … one that increases a cat’s chances of survival in the wild.
How intelligence is expressed is also largely determined by an animal’s sensory organs and motor abilities. Cats perceive the world quite differently than humans. For instance, they are unable to distinguish between red, orange, yellow and green. They have 20/80 vision, which means they only have good visual acuity at distances of less than 20 feet, and they see best in low light conditions ideal for hunting and stalking prey at dusk. Their sense of smell is far better than a human but much less sensitive than a dog’s. Cats have incredible hearing and can hear ultrasonic noises made by rats and mice. You may also be surprised to know that cats are quite dexterous compared to dogs, able to seize and manipulate objects surprisingly well with their paws.
If you’re interested in trying to gauge your kitty’s IQ, hide a bit of food under a towel and see how quickly the cat finds its prey. However, don’t be surprised if your cat would rather play with the towel than find the food!
When trying to assess feline intelligence, we humans would benefit from a paradigm shift. Since we tend to judge intelligence by comparing cats to ourselves, or how easily cats understand and obey human cues, we are missing out on the brilliant diversity, amazing adaptability and creative capabilities of the most popular pet in America.
I encourage you to celebrate how cats are unique, and do your best to see the world through your cat’s eyes.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.
|Dr. Jane Bicks|
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