A Cat's Cognitive Abilities: What Does Your Cat Really Think of You?

Cognition in pets is a tricky thing to understand, especially in cats. We see so many articles on canine cognition, behavioral studies, and a whole lot of understanding of “man’s best friend.” We see less on cat cognition because cats tend to be, well, fickle. They don’t cooperate as well as dogs. That is why there are so many studies on dog cognition. Though there may not be much studied on cat cognition, today, let’s dive into cat cognition ourselves and see what we can find.

Olfactory Perception in Cats

Cats have an innate part of cat cognition. That natural ability is olfactory perception. Cat’s can hear, see, and smell. Not to forget the power of the whisker, which is there to detect stimuli. Cat’s stimuli are essential when they are kittens and when they continue to grow and thrive as adults. They must first figure out their relationship with their mother by using their perception. Perhaps this comes from a cat’s innate sense to detect their predators. Protection continues throughout their life as they use scent for marking and smelling territories of other cats. Olfactory perception in cats is by far the most critical aspect of understanding cat cognition: their smell!

How Cats View Objects

Cats practice object permanence, which is the ability to keep an object in mind, even when it goes out of view. Perhaps this is why cats are such great hunters. For example, your cat may see a toy disappear underneath furniture. They can tell that it is still there, even though they can’t see it. If you hide something, they may search later with their sense of smell, too. Such as, if you had a treat.

Understanding Quantities

Did you know? Cats can be taught to understand the difference between quantities, such as deciphering between two dots and three dots. This experiment worked with small amounts, at the very least. Smart creatures! Testing physical quantities can open the possibilities of more tests in the future to further investigate cat cognition.

Relationships and Cognition

Social cognition is often questioned by many. People often misunderstand cats. People have come to believe that domestic cats are solitary. Much like any person, cats have different relationships, depending on the person. Because domesticated cats learn to socialize in the early weeks of their lives, they learn to be friendly to people they come in contact with. Feral and domestic cats alike also build their relationships with cats in their vicinity.

The truth is, cats are exceptionally socially cognitive, as long as you give them a chance. As we continue to study cat cognition, we find cats brilliant animals. Domestic cats take their predatory abilities and apply that to their everyday life. Some might even say a pet’s ability to sense danger, detect movement, and understand their senses is far superior to what we learn early on as humans. Cat cognitive abilities are something we can take into account as we live with these tiny creatures in our homes for years to come.

Can some cats have cognitive delays?

Unfortunately, cats can develop cognitive delays or cognitive dysfunction. This is similar to Alzheimer's in humans. It causes them to have learning and memory deficits among other things.

What is cognitive dysfunction syndrome in cats?

FCD or feline cognitive dysfunction is quite common in cats. Due to brain aging, their memory gets less accurate and they start to have learning deficits. Also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, FCD is more prevalent in older cats and usually comes with other symptoms like confusion and spatial disorientation, decreased activity, anxiety, and increased irritability, and change in their social behavior.

What cats are thinking when they look at you?

If your cat stares at you and slowly blinks, there's a good chance that they're saying "I love you" in their sweet feline language. If you see that their eyes are focused and dilated, it might mean that they're gearing up for some action.

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Written by Leo Roux

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