Tag: smart cats

Study: Cat Brains Have Gotten Smaller

Cats have gotten a good deal out of domestication: They’re safer, warmer and protected from almost all threats. They know where their next meal is coming from, and won’t hesitate to meow our ears off if dinner is late.

But one tradeoff doesn’t immediately appear beneficial: Domestic cats have smaller brains than the species they’ve evolved from, African and Eurasian wildcats.

“[D]omestic cats indeed, have smaller cranial volumes (implying smaller brains) relative to both European wildcats (Felis silvestris) and the wild ancestors of domestic cats, the African wildcats (Felis lybica),” the research team wrote.

Wild cats have the largest brains on average, followed by wild-domestic hybrids and domestic cats with the smallest brains of the three.

That’s another strong indicator that domestication is the determining factor in feline brain size, although the researchers point out that they are comparing domestic cats to current wildcats, and not the ancient population of wildcats from which domestic cats evolved beginning some 10,000 years ago with the dawn of agriculture and permanent human settlements.

Wildcats with friendlier and bolder dispositions were the first to approach human settlements, drawn by the rodents who were themselves feasting on human grain supplies. Humans realized that the cats were taking care of their rodent problems but weren’t interested in eating the grain, and a beautiful partnership was born.

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“I have a yuge, yuge brain, the best brain. It’s tremendous.”

Smaller brains do not necessarily correlate to lower intelligence, however, and cats aren’t the only species whose brains became smaller after they were domesticated. Dog brains are about 30 percent smaller than the brains of gray wolves, but dogs have adapted spectacularly to living with humans and reading human behavioral cues.

“The dog is successful not because of the size of its whole brain per se, but because domestication has led to subtle brain changes with a stunning result: the ability to live in the world of people,” a Smithsonian Magazine article points out, noting dogs are also adept at getting people to do all sorts of things for them.

If brain size alone resulted in higher levels of intelligence, whales and elephants would rule the Earth.

Instead “the complexity of cellular and molecular organization of neural connections, or synapses, is what truly determines a brain’s computational capacity,” neuroscientist Kendra Lechtenberg wrote.

The researchers weren’t interested in drawing any major conclusions about feline cognition with the study. They’re more interested in the phenomena of “domestication syndrome,” which causes changes both physical (floppy ears, coat color variation, shorter muzzles) and behavioral. (Less aggression, playfulness.)

The jury’s still out on why exactly those traits emerge, but some studies have attributed it to differences in embryonic development. Unlike many other domestic animals, cats don’t look much different than their wild felis lybica and felis sylvestris counterparts.

The cat study was published on Jan. 26 to Royal Science Open Science, a peer-reviewed open-access journal. The research team was comprised of biologists from the University of Vienna and data curators from the National Museum of Scotland.

Mom Cat Brings Her Sick Babies To Health Clinic

Even those of us who love cats often joke about how aloof they are, and then they go and do something that shows such a profound understanding of human behavior that we’re left thunderstruck.

That was the case in Turkey’s Izmir province, where a ginger tabby dragged her two babies into a health clinic this week one at a time, according to a report in the English-language Turkish news site Daily Sabah:

The official said that they noticed the animal while they were attending to patients as she started “constantly meowing.” When they saw something was wrong with kittens, they took a closer look and discovered the kittens’ eyes were closed tightly. “We gave them some drugs and they started opening their eyes and later, we transferred them to the veterinary department. It was the first time that an animal walked into our clinic, and it was a very emotional moment for us,” the official said.

Both kittens had eye infections and fully recovered.

This isn’t the first time cats have asked humans for help, nor is it the first time a mom cat brought her kittens into a hospital or clinic.

On April 27, 2020, a female cat walked into the emergency room of Kucukcekmece Hospital in Istanbul while carrying her kitten in her mouth, then deposited the “mischievous” little one right in front of a group of hospital employees who were chatting.

Hospital staff gave the mom food and water while they examined her baby.

A mom cat takes her baby to the hospital

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And in May of 2020, a cat in Mexico shocked a woman with his understanding of how the human world works. After she saw him in front of a store and bent down to pet him, he led her into the store, guided her to the pet food aisle and pointed to the exact type of food he wanted.

Not only did this cat understand that he had to be accompanied by a human to get into the store, and precisely where to direct her, but he also knew the packaging of his favorite food and understood that she had to buy it for him. He may not understand the concept of currency, but he does know a human has to get him the food and he can’t just tear into it.

The woman was so moved that she adopted the smart little guy and named him Rabbit.

Rabbit the Cat
Rabbit points to the food he wanted a kind woman to buy for him.

These examples not only show how astonishingly intelligent and observant cats are — or can be, when they’re motivated — they also make it difficult for anyone to cling to old beliefs that cats and other mammals are unthinking, unfeeling automatons. Or the dreaded, all too common “it’s just a cat.”

If cats understand hospitals and health clinics are places where the sick and injured are treated, and they understand abstract social concepts like “a human must obtain this for me,” it makes you wonder what else they observe and fully understand in those furry little heads.