The 12 Smartest Cat Breeds That Are Equally Cute and Clever
Where does your feline rank among intelligent kitties? Get ready to meet the smartest cat breeds and their paws-a-tively lovable traits.
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How smart is your cat?
Cats are delightfully complex creatures. If we dare to sleep in a few minutes late, they paw at our faces and meow, demanding breakfast. They can be warm and affectionate yet aloof when we’ve been away from the house too long. Even some of the smartest cat breeds display unusual cat behavior. But there’s no need for standardized tests to verify what we already know—cats are smart! Whether they’re mixed breed or purebred, small cat breeds or large cat breeds, the reality is that there’s no one accurate way to measure the intelligence of individual cats. However, recent research gives us some compelling evidence to back up what we know in our hearts: Feline intelligence is unique.
Are you clawing to find out which cat breeds are the smartest? Do they happen to be sleek black cat breeds, gorgeous orange cat breeds or all of the above? Experts say the ones on our list stand out when it comes to their trainability, insatiable curiosity, investigative skills and puzzle-solving brain power.
Do cats have a high IQ?
Before we reveal the smartest cat breeds, let’s take a closer look at just how clever these little lions are. We know that a cat’s brain is almost as structurally complex as a human brain. Cats have around 250 million neurons (tiny information processors) in their cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that solves problems, makes decisions, decodes emotions and creates complex behavior, like why cats purr or why cats sleep so much. (In comparison, dogs have about 429 million neurons, and humans house an average of 86 billion.) And while more neurons in the brain does equal more cognitive ability, it isn’t necessarily a good indicator of intelligence. That’s because cognition can involve other areas outside the cerebral cortex.
So why are dogs generally thought to be smarter than cats? Is it because they have more neurons? Nerdy science aside, there are a host of theories. For starters, dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and have been living and learning social tasks from humans longer than cats. Temperament wise, dogs are more patient and generally eager to please their humans. In contrast, cats are typically less eager to please, though some are exceptionally cooperative. They tend to be more impulsive, have far less patience and get frustrated and lose interest in something that’s boring to them.
However, cats are highly attuned to their surroundings, and how they interact and respond is expressing intelligence, says Teresa Keiger, an all-breed judge with the Cat Fanciers’ Association. That awareness is what helped cats survive for thousands of years in the wild. “I notice that cats who were rescued from outdoor living situations tend to be more intelligent, since they’ve had to learn to think on their feet,” says Stephanie Wolf, DVM, a veterinarian for The Vets, a mobile veterinary service. Whether a mixed breed or pedigree, rare cat breed or fluffy cat breed, one thing is certain: Cats are smart and trainable; they just might not all be interested.
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1. Russian blue
When it comes to the smartest cat breeds, the Russian blue is so clever that it’s more apt to train you than the other way around. Like an alarm, the Russian blue will wake you up to feed it breakfast and remind you when it’s dinnertime. In fact, if you’re looking for an accountability partner to maintain a strict schedule, this might be the cat for you. “This quiet breed is very attuned to its household,” says Keiger. “They’re incredibly smart, and they wait to make certain that any stranger is not a threat to safety.” Once they’ve issued your security clearance, they form a tight bond and are regarded as an affectionate cat breed with their humans—so much so that they’re known for hitching a ride on their human’s shoulders.
|Life expectancy||15–20 years|
This gorgeous cat looks like it stepped out of the jungle and into your living room. From the forward-tilting ears to the large almond-shaped eyes and the stunning colors of its coat, it resembles a cougar. “Abyssinians are incredibly intelligent, good problem solvers and full of an insatiable curiosity,” says Keiger.
Perpetually alert and busy, the Aby is happiest when patrolling its environment and playing with challenging interactive puzzle toys. “I always think of Abys as the MacGyver of cats—if they had thumbs, they’d figure out how to fix anything,” Keiger says. Intelligence aside, Abys are highly social cats and love people and other felines. Plus, they are one of the cat breeds that gets along with dogs. Who knows? Maybe the Aby could teach your old dog a few new tricks.
|Life expectancy||9–15 years|
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3. Egyptian mau
The key to this exotic beauty’s happiness is sharpening its mental and physical skills. “Being able to offer enrichment is key to ensuring your cat is getting the best level of stimulation and exercise,” says Julie Andino, DVM, a veterinarian at URvet Care. That goes for all breeds, but this cat craves cat toys and activities that showcase its lightning-fast physical and mental responses. They’re so clever that they can even turn on the faucet to play in water—although we may never understand why some cats hate water when the mau wouldn’t miss an opportunity to splash their paws in it. After they’ve expended their energy figuring out the day’s puzzles, this cutie loves to snuggle up with their human.
|Life expectancy||9–13 years|
One of the smartest cat breeds, the Burmese craves attention, something you can learn from its body language. “This intelligent breed loves to entertain its resident humans so much that it often checks to make certain someone is watching,” says Keiger. They’re also known for being dog-like and enjoy a rousing game of fetch, an unusually quirky cat behavior. And they’re adorably stubborn. “When they make up their minds that they want something, they simply don’t take no for an answer and usually figure out a way to get it.” And that includes attention from you. Burmese cats are all about give-and-take when it comes to affection, but if you’re busy and ignore them too long, they might take it upon themselves to follow you around the house, rub against your leg or plop down on your lap and snuggle, all to remind you that you have a cat that needs some loving.
|Life expectancy||9–13 years|
5. American bobtail
It’s one thing for the smartest cat breeds to learn new tricks, but when a cat also has emotional intelligence, that’s an impressive combo. These cute stubby-tailed felines are noted for their empathy and for providing a calming and assuring presence that’s equal to emotional support dogs. “They are also very in tune with their household and owners, offering a shoulder to cry on when needed,” says Keiger.
Heck, they even act like dogs—playing fetch, walking on a leash and rushing to greet guests when there’s a knock on the door. Devoted companion, a lover of people and other animals, the American bobtail is an adorable and lovable companion.
|Life expectancy||13–15 years|
6. Japanese bobtail
The smartest cat breeds are often breeds we have never heard of before. Take the Japanese bobtail, one of the rarest cat breeds in the world. Every Japanese bobtail has its own unique tail. Yes, you read that right. No two tails are ever alike. They consider themselves family members and are always ready to help, even if that means sitting on your laptop. “They are active, intelligent, talkative cats who delight in mischief-making,” says Keiger. They love to travel, stay in hotels and quite literally jump through hoops and over hurdles to impress you—and entertain themselves. As brain power goes, it’s that human-like personality that makes them seem so bright. “Life is never dull with a Japanese bobtail,” Keiger says.
|Life expectancy||15–18 years|
The Siamese is wicked smart and loves to learn new tricks, Dr. Andino says. If you don’t provide interesting and challenging outlets to exercise its noggin, it will find its own stimulating activities, whether you approve or not. If there’s one thing that competes with utilizing its brain power, it’s the love and affection it craves from humans. If this cat had a daily schedule, “get affection from human” would be a top priority. And Siamese cats will let you know by that infamous yowling. “The Siamese are very vocal and communicative with their human,” says Dr. Andino. They’re likely to talk your ear off, especially if they want something. One of the smartest cat breeds, the Siamese gets along well with people of all ages, as well as other animals. Bonus: If you take any stock in choosing cats most compatible with your zodiac sign, the Siamese happens to be very compatible with Libras.
|Life expectancy||15–20 years|
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The Bengal sports a jaw-dropping, highly contrasted coat of distinctive marbling—very similar to what you see on leopards and jaguars. Its striking beauty is why you should keep close tabs on your Bengal, as it’s the cat breed most often stolen. Beauty aside, this very confident and curious cat isn’t shy about asking you to play. Bengals tend to get a little set in their ways, so introducing new people and furry friends should be done at an early age, if possible. Need to lay down a few new house rules or teach it some tricks? No problem. Bengals pick those up lickety-split. Their athletic prowess is unmatched, but they need plenty of space to run, pounce, roam and jump—some even love to walk on a leash and explore the outdoors. Bengals are super sweet and often very chatty (here’s what their meows may mean) and happy to engage you in a conversation.
|Life expectancy||12–16 years|
Did you know that the smartest cat breeds could also bring you good fortune? The Korat is one of Thailand’s good luck cats, and no, they don’t mind if you pet them several times a day to increase your luck! Korats are freakishly observant and will watch everything you do. Don’t be surprised if they learn how to open their own box of treats. They’re a devoted companion, an outgoing feline and enjoy having guests in the house. One reason is they love to snoop. Like the nosy houseguest who peeks in your medicine cabinet, the Korat returns the favor, sniffing and investigating your guest’s shoes, purses, coats and anything else that piques their interest. Because Korats thrive when they are around people, being alone may cause cat anxiety.
|Life expectancy||10–15 years|
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Bred to look like the Indian black leopard, this midnight-black kitty walks with a sway much like its wild counterpart and is equally gorgeous and clever. Bombay cats are exceptionally friendly, outgoing and lovey-dovey. Family life is their jam, including younger humans and furry siblings. “The Bombay kitty is great at being trained, and they’re very motivated to show their people what they are capable of learning,” says Dr. Andino. These cats thrive with continuous education, learning new tricks and solving challenging interactive puzzles. And when the love bug hits them, watch out. They will hunt for your lap and crash there until they get enough pets and belly rubs.
|Life expectancy||12–16 years|
11. Havana brown
The brownie, as its fans dub it, is deeply connected to humans and savors affectionate companionship. (If “brownie” doesn’t cut it, try these funny cat names.) Havana browns insist on being involved in whatever you’re doing, yet they are remarkably sensitive and use both their paws to gently touch their humans. They share DNA with the Siamese, but their meows are quieter, charming and almost flirty. They might prefer the company of one favorite human over others in the family but tend to get along with humans of all ages, as well as furry roommates. Perhaps the most interesting characteristic is how they investigate. While most felines examine things with their nose, Havana browns use both their paws to check out trinkets and treasures.
|Life expectancy||8–13 years|
The Singapura is the smallest domestic cat breed, with a whole lot of feisty goodness in a tiny package. If those big saucer eyes and adorable face aren’t captivating enough to get your attention, you might need some catnip. And don’t let the small frame fool you. Under that fur lies a muscular and athletic body. The Singapura is a social butterfly, always looking to be the center of attention, in the cutest, playful ways. They are the life of any party, whether they’re invited or not. Conversations with Singapuras are a pure delight as well and never get stale—you could listen to their sweet meows for hours, and they’ll love your high-pitched baby talk just as much. Keenly observant, intelligent and extroverted, these cats still act like kittens well into adulthood.
|Life expectancy||11–15 years|
- Teresa Keiger, all-breed judge with the Cat Fanciers’ Association
- Stephanie Wolf, DVM, veterinarian at The Vets
- Julie Andino, DVM, veterinarian at URvet Care
- Frontiers in Neuroanatomy: “Dogs Have the Most Neurons, Though Not the Largest Brain: Trade-Off between Body Mass and Number of Neurons in the Cerebral Cortex of Large Carnivoran Species”
- Scientific American: “Dogs Have a Lot More Neurons Than Cats”
- Purina: “Cat Breeds”
- Hill’s Pets: “Cat Breeds”
- ASPCA Pet Health Insurance: “Cat Breeds”