10 Facts About Your Cat's Brain

Estimated Reading Time 6 minutes
10 Facts About Your Cat's Brain

Cats are intelligent creatures. Many research studies have shown cats can learn new behaviors, apply learned knowledge to new situations, communicate their needs and desires to their humans, and respond to training cues. Have you ever wondered what makes your furball’s brain tick? Here are some interesting facts about the brain of cats!

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1. Anatomy of a Cat’s Brain

The cat’s brain is very similar to humans in terms of physical structure. Both have a cerebral cortex and associated lobes. The brains of humans and cats are classified as gyrencephalic, which refers to the presence of folds on the brain’s surface.

Human vs. Cat Brain

The brain of domestic cats is approximately 0.91% of its body weight. For the average human, it’s about 2.33% of the total body mass. It’s about five centimeters (2 inches) in length and weighs 25-30 grams (0.88-1.06 oz).

The cat’s cerebral cortex has a surface area of approximately 83 cm2 (13 in2), and the weight of the cerebellum is 0.17 of the total body weight. Cats have about 763 million cortical neurons in the brain. The part of the cortex that’s responsible for their sense of sight (also called the primary visual cortex) has about 51,400 neurons per mm3.

A cat’s brain is divided into three main parts:

  • Cerebrum (cerebral cortex) - This is the center for rational decision-making and complex problem-solving. It’s also for storing short-term and long-term memory, cognition, emotions, planning, and motor function.
  • Cerebellum - involved in movement and motor control, as well as maintaining balance and regulation of movement
  • Brainstem - helps regulate basic life functions of the body like heart rate and temperature

The other parts of a domestic cat’s brain - hippocampus, amygdala, and frontal lobes - comprise 3-3.5% of the total brain compared to about 25% in humans.

The brain orientation of cats is front to back, while it’s a top-down or vertical orientation in humans. Feline brains are more elongated, while human brains are oval-shaped.

Humans have a larger prefrontal cortex compared to cats. This makes humans more superior in planning, short-term memory, and performing complex behaviors. On the other hand, cats have a larger cerebellum based on the proportion of their body weight. This is important for their predator skills and instincts - stalking prey, jumping, hunting, climbing, etc.

Compared to humans, cats have more nerve cells in the part of their brain that is responsible for their sense of sight. Cats have longer memories than dogs. They also learn better by doing rather than seeing.

2. Encephalization Quotient (EQ)

The encephalization quotient (EQ) value indicates whether a species has a brain larger (EQ > 1), equal (EQ = 1), or smaller (EQ <1) than expected for its body mass. EQ values above one are classified as big-brained, while lower values are small-brained.

For domestic cats, the EQ value is between 1-1.71 while the human EQ is 7.44-7.8.

3. Visual-Recognition Memory

Cats have excellent visual-recognition memory and have the ability to encode visual information. Like monkeys, cats have a highly developed long-term recognition memory ability.

4. Brain Diets Boost Cognitive Function in Cats

The diets of cats exert a significant influence on their cognitive function. Diets that are rich in omega fatty-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, taurine, essential vitamins, and minerals, as well as specific supplements, help improve the mental processes - attention, learning, problem-solving, and short and long-term memory of cats.

Good quality kitten food contains nutrients that support brain development, while senior cat diets are formulated to help prevent cognitive disorders.

Taurine is an essential amino acid that plays a role in many neurological functions, particularly in visual development. A lack of taurine in the diet can lead to abnormal morphology in the cerebellum and visual cortex of cats which can lead to complete blindness.

Choline prevents and improves epilepsy and cognitive disorders. It’s often incorporated as part of supportive therapy for cats suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction or those that frequently suffer from seizures. It’s also the precursor to neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine and dopamine, which are important factors of nervous system function.

5. Sensorimotor Intelligence

Cats have fully developed perceptions of object permanence. Controlled experiments show that the performance of cats in multiple invisible displacements of an object was consistent, which indicates a fully developed sensorimotor intelligence.

However, cats don’t understand ‘cause and effect’ as humans do. In a study conducted by Dr. Britta Osthaus, a psychologist, cats had no trouble getting treats that were offered to them on one string. However, when treats were presented with multiple strings, some of which had no treats, the cats were inconsistent in choosing the right strings.

6. Cats Dream

Cats experience dreams while they’re sleeping and they can retain and recall sequences of events while they’re asleep. During the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, a cat that’s dreaming may sometimes have uncontrolled movements involving their face, whiskers, paws, and even bellies.

7. Cats Have Excellent Memories

Research has shown that the information-retention or recall of cats has a duration of about 10 years. The excellent memory recall of cats also makes it easier for them to adapt to their present environment.

However, several factors can affect a cat’s memory. These include individual differences in intelligence, age, and even their relationships with humans.

8. Advancing Age Affects a Cat’s Memory

Just like humans, cats lose brains cells as they age, which eventually paves the way for a decline in their memory and ability to learn. Age-related changes can affect the way their brain stores information, making it more difficult for them to recall stored information.

Since the brain structure of cats is similar to humans, they can develop similar conditions that affect their brain and brain function. Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD), a condition that’s similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, can affect feline memory.

The degenerative changes in the brain of cats with FCD cause behavioral changes such as reduced social interaction, loss of house training, disorientation, and disturbances in sleep patterns.

10. Cats Can Recognize the Voice of Their Humans

Cats have been living with humans for more than 10,000 years. Regular interactions have paved the way for cats to communicate on a certain level with humans. A 2013 study that investigated the response of cats to the voice of their owners revealed that cats respond to human voices by ear movement and head movement (also called ‘orienting behavior’) and not by vocalization and tail movement (communicative behavior) like dogs often do. Also, the cats showed a significant response to the voice of their owners. These observations indicate that cats can use vocal cues alone to distinguish between humans.

Read more:

10 Facts About Cat Eyes

10 Cool and Interesting Facts About Your Cat’s Ears

5 Interesting Facts About Your Cat’s Digestive System

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Published: 4/18/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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