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Ask the Doctor April 2018 Issue

Dear Doctor: Improving Feline Intelligence


Q. I recently read the Short Takes in Catnip (March 2018 issue) about dogs being smarter than cats. What can be done to increase the neuron count in cats, if anything?

Lee Johnson

Research shows that exercise, stress reduction and brain exercises can increase neuron numbers. Environmental enrichment for your cat can only do her good.

A. Dear Lee: That’s an interesting question. For a long time, it was thought that neuron numbers in the brain cannot increase, although they can and do decrease through life. But recent studies have shown that neuron numbers actually can increase (the process is termed neurogenesis). There is evidence that exercise, stress reduction and brain exercises all can stimulate neurogenesis. It is unknown whether these measures can benefit neuron numbers in cats, but it seems logical that they could.

So, many of the steps we commonly recommend in Catnip to improve the quality of life for cats — such as encouraging cats to stay physically active and providing them with environmental enrichment — are based in good science.

John Berg, DVM, DACVS

Professor of Surgery

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Comments (4)

I have had many cats and have seen intelligence in them that rivals that of dogs. I has one cat who played fetch. one that could open a cabinet take out a packet of food tear it open and self feed., one I currently own plays a game, I put my hand on his paw he pulls it out and puts it on top of my hand and so on, we continue the game. I have two cats currently and since they were 6 weeks old they come out after dinner and go to their places on either side of a tray table, where they are hand fed their treats directly from my fingers, no biting, they also know what no means! These, to me, are signs of intelligence not seen in all cats.and, my opinion, expect more, get more. Set limits and they will be limited.

Posted by: borders02 | March 18, 2019 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Cats are just less cooperative than dogs. And they are all different. At present I live with 2 cats. One of them would be a nuclear physicist if he had opposable thumbs. The other one is sweet, but...

Posted by: Atlartist | April 23, 2018 6:17 PM    Report this comment

Dogs and cats have very different ways of surviving, that is, hunting for their food. Cats are mostly individual predators and catch their prey by ambush. That would be the reason they have great leaping ability and a long tail to act as a rudder. Dogs, on the other hand, evolved to hunt in packs, which requires social skills that are not so critical to cats. Dogs have been found to have tremendous aerobic ability, which is why they are able to run down larger animals like deer and wear them out. Dogs' ability to sneak up on prey is less than cats, but cats can't run for hours like dogs can, nor can they detect the scent of prey with the amazing sensitivity of a dog nose. But, before humans took over the world, both dogs and cats did well, spreading world wide successfully. Now they rule many a human house, so they are highly adaptable too. We should be so smart. People think dogs are smarter because they pay more attention to humans. Cats have their own agenda.

Posted by: Bonnie583 | April 23, 2018 4:40 PM    Report this comment

I must have read the same article that said dogs are "smarter" than cats. I decided that this was nonsense. Dogs may have certain abilities that cats do not, but cats have abilities dogs can only dream about! On the whole, I think its about equal, and it us humans who have to know which we prefer, and which animal we understand better. I relate very well with almost all cats. Always have and always will. My cat, Jackson Bear, is, IMO, very smart about many things. He is VERY sensitive to change and loves stability in his young life. I dont think I would WANT a cat of mine to be "smarter." Why??? What purpose would this serve? We love our cats, and need to respect the deep intelligence that they DO have. Cats know things we humans simply DO NOT know.

An example: several times in my life, a cat has obviously chosen ME. Bear is one of those cats. He was abandoned at only 1 years old. A neighbor began feeding him and even had him neutered. He was terrified of all humans but her - until the day I met the lady - AND the cat. He wasnt scared of me at all, and made it plain I was his chosen Human. He has been with me now for over two years, and is one of the sweetest cats I have ever had.

Posted by: missannienow | April 23, 2018 4:27 PM    Report this comment

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