It is often that many cat lovers simply marvel at the intelligence of our feline friends, and just how bizarre and mysterious their behavior is.
And while many animal cognition experts have learned quite a lot about what is going on in the minds of dogs over the years, a cat’s mind still remains a mystery even to them.
The fact remains that there has been a little amount of research done to figure out what cats are really thinking, the reason behind this being the fact that cats are, what seems the world’s most uncooperative research subjects.
If you are a cat parent, this of course comes as no surprise to you. In fact, what the majority of people love so much about cats is because they are an endless source of interest. Even though we still have lots to learn about what truly goes on in the mind of a cat, what we do know now is still super interesting.
In this article, you will read about 11 of the most interesting cat brain facts, along with insight from some veterinary neurologists and behaviorists.
A cat’s brain is around the size of a human’s pinkie finger
The average size of a cat’s brain is only about five centimeters or just around two inches long.
This may be smaller than you expected. Dr. Serene Lai, a veterinary neurologist, and neurosurgeon at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center of Tufts University had this to say: “I have always marveled at how easy it is to overestimate the size of an animal’s brain”.
And because much of your cat’s skull is taken up by thick bone as well as the eye sockets, mouth, and jaw, this leaves quite little room for her cranium, which is the part of the skull that contains the cat’s brain.
What’s more, it only weighs less than half of a plum!
This already small brain is also light in weight. The average cat’s brain weighs in at about 30 grams or close to 0.06 pounds.
Compare that size to a great white shark’s brain that’s only a little heavier, clocking at 34 grams or 0.07 pounds, or a newborn baby’s brain which already is over eleven times as heavy as a cat’s brain is at 350 grams or 0.77 pounds!
Rather than top to down, cats’ brains are oriented front to back!
Look at it this way, both cats and dogs stand on four feet on a horizontal plane, whereas we humans stand on two feet on a vertical plane.
With all of this taken into account, it makes sense why the sections of our brains would be oriented top down while a cat’s and a dog’s brains would be front to back, as explained by Lai.
Both cats and dogs have more elongated brains as well, while ours are more round or oval shaped, depending on who you ask.
Their overall anatomy is pretty similar to a human’s brain as well!
Even though our brains are in some ways different, both in shape and size, the anatomy of a cat’s brain resembles our own in many ways, Lai says.
A few structures including the cerebral cortex which cat, dogs, and even humans have, is responsible for cognition, memories, planning, motor function, emotions, and more, the cerebellum which is responsible for balancing and regulating movement, and the brainstem which aids in regulating the essential body functions such as temperature and heart rate.
The size and number of brain cells differs quite a bit though.
As humans, for example, pet parents have a larger prefrontal cortex compared to cats, only because that area refers to planning, complex behaviors, and short term memory, as Lai says.
While on the other hand, cats do have a proportionally larger cerebellum, which does make sense since balance, body awareness, and coordination are crucial for their daily needs such as hunting, climbing, jumping, stalking their prey, and the most important: watching the world below from great heights.
And because of these differences in the brain structure, what will fascinate a cat is something that will generally not fascinate a dog or you for that matter.
Lai even says: “Think about the cat toys that never fail to capture a cat’s attention—this mimics their natural drive to attack prey and feeds their curiosity and fascination with hunting birds and bugs”.
Taking this into consideration it is pretty important to provide your cat with activities and an environment that they can express their feline self. Dr. Marci L. Koski, certified feline behavior consultant and founder of Feline Behavior Solutions even suggests that “During play time, allow her to ‘hunt’ for interactive wand toys and make sure your home has plenty of cat trees and shelves for her to hide away from predators and look for potential prey from a safe vantage point.”
Cats’ brains share a lot of similarities with that of a brown bear.
The amount of brain cells that a cat has in its cerebral cortex, which is the information processing center of the brain, is about the same amount as a brown bear has.
Referring to a study done in 2017 by Frontiers of Neuroanatomy, it is proven that despite having a cerebral cortex that is ten times smaller than a brown bear’s, a cat has around the same amount of brain cells with 250 million compared to the brown bear’s 251 million.
To compare, dogs have about 400 million to 600 million neurons in their cerebral cortex, all depending on their size and breed. We, humans, have about 21 to 26 billion, according to the recent estimates. This is the biggest and main difference between a cat’s brain and ours.
Dr. David Weinstein, a veterinary neurologist at the BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Overland Park, Kansas had this to say: “The human brain is more complex and contains significantly more neurons, specialized cells designed to transmit information to other cells and muscles throughout the body”.
Cats are able to recognize and differentiate voices
Oftentimes, cats get a bad reputation for ignoring their owners while dogs on the other are more than eager to please them, no matter what command is given.
On the contrary, your cat is listening to you, it just doesn’t show it. Adding to that, a study was done in 2013 by Animal Cognition where researchers played cat recordings of either their owners or complete strangers calling their names.
The cats were the most responsive to the voices of their owners, however rather than meowing or getting up to find the source of the voice, they just slightly moved their heads or ears around. Typical feline behavior.
Cats may pick up on your body language as well
Even if your cat doesn’t respond to you, it does not mean that it is not aware of what you are trying to do and communicate. Another study was done, where cats are presented with two bowls, one of which is empty, the other full of food that they could not see, and when the researchers pointed at the bowl with food in it, the cats walked straight to the correct bowl for their reward.
It is also possible for cats to become attached to their owners
One other common misconception about cats is that they are aloof. Many people think that cats just put up with them, and don’t love them the way that dogs do. But recent research done by Current Biology proves otherwise! Cats can bond with their owners just as well as dogs can!
When both kittens and cats were separated from their owners, and then promptly reunited with them, they displayed distinct attachment styles towards their human caregivers. Many of the cats were even more relaxed and willing to explore the room when their owner was nearby, which is a behavior that indicates that a sense of attachment to their human makes them feel secure.
Cats can experience a brain freeze
If you are a cat owner, then there is a big chance that you have already seen some of the adorable videos on YouTube where kittens are licking popsicles, when they abruptly freeze up in a moment of cold induced pain. So, yeah, cat brain freeze is definitely a thing.
This phenomenon, that is formally known as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, which is a mouthful in of itself, happens when cold exposure rapidly constricts the blood vessels in your mouth or throat, in turn resulting in a familiar ice cream ache that we have all experienced.
If your cat’s well being is in question, then it is better that you skip this viral video trend. Koski says: “Humans don’t like how brain freeze feels, and it’s likely that cats don’t, either”. Another factor against this is that cats are lactose intolerant, so ice cream should be avoided, she notes as well.
Cats also seem to dream
There is a great chance that you have seen your cat’s paws twitch or its body moving while it sleeps, so you have probably imagined it dreaming of kneading some biscuits or chasing some mice around the house.
Even though it is impossible to get into the mind, or even dream journal, of a cat, our furry friends do experience the same rapid eye movement sleep, which is also known as REM sleep, which is the stage of sleeping in which we are dreaming, per a review that was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.
Just like us, their eyes flutter and their muscles relax as they doze off in deep sleep, partially to prevent them from acting out whatever they might be dreaming up in their head.