Cats don't have a high intelligence. But cats can easily differentiate between a moving car and a large animal such as cow or buffalo. It is clearly seen that cats get afraid of cows or take defensive stand on seeing a cow. However, they don't care about moving vehicles, as if they know that vehicles are non living objects.

Now, given the limited intellectual capability of cats, how is it possible for them to do so?

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    What makes you think that cats are unintelligent? My cat is the most intelligent pet I've ever owned. When I took him in, he used to watch everything I did. By observing me, it didn't take him long to work out how to work the latch to open my bedroom window. He could have done it if he was strong enough to push it open. After just two trips to the vet, he knew that he had to operate the push button on his carry-case door, but he was unable to push it in and turn it through 90 degrees. He may not have known what to do, but he knew that he had to do something with it. Unintelligent? No way!
    – Mick
    Nov 27, 2017 at 0:46
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    My cat is very intelligent.When I eat cereal from the box she'd put her paw in and eat whatever she caught. When I pull things from under the bed with a broom(for cleaning) she'd pull them with me, such a useful maid. When kids annoy her a lot she'd yell at them instead of growling or hissing. When I slap her with my finger she'd slap me with her paw. When she wants her kittens back she'd stand up on two feet so I give them back. When she's doing something wrong I say no she stops. When she's done a mess in the litterbox she'd try to stop me from going in. When I ignore her she breaks glass. Nov 27, 2017 at 2:47
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    When she wants food she opens the container. When she wants out she opens the doors. She is also kind of obedient. Makes me think it's a dog. She learns very fast to do new tricks. Within the second or third try she always knows what to do. So DO NOT CALL CATS UNINTELLIGENT AGAIN :) Nov 27, 2017 at 3:04
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    @Sonevol: My cat hisses at houseflies as if the flies would understand that she is hissing. Can you say that you haver never ever talked to or grumbled about an inanimate object? E.g. calling your computer a $%µ*ù! when it crashes or is behaving slowly. That makes even less sense than hissing at a fly, which is actually a sentient creature.
    – Flater
    Nov 27, 2017 at 14:50
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    Some cats are totally opposite. I saw two feral cats sitting just normally near a cow baby. And they do move away from cars, they don't run, just move away from the car's path. There is a lot to be known about animal intelligence. Nov 30, 2017 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


How cats differentiate between cars and animals?

How do you differentiate between them? I'm not talking about knowing that cars exist, but rather visually distinguishing whether a specific object is alive or inanimate. Can you explain to me your thought process, inbetween seeing something move out of the corner of your eye and knowing whether it's sentient or not?

I can't even answer this about myself. You just sort of know. It's hard to explain. I suspect that you can't give an accurate explanation of how your mind distinguishes between the two either.

The existence of phenomena such as the uncanny valley indirectly support the notion that we do not know precisely how the human mind (and by extension the animal mind) works. We cannot logically explain the phenomenon, even though we can consistently observe it occurring.
Similarly, cats are consistently able to differentiate between cars and large animals; even if we can't explain exactly how (or why) they are able to do so. All we can conclude is that they are able to.

Cats don't have a high intelligence.

The problem is in the premise, your assumption is incorrect.

Cats are incredibly intelligent. Forgoing a subjective "cats vs dogs" argument, cats are objectively more independent than dogs. I think both cat and dog lovers can agree on that fact at least.

Cats use critical thinking to support their independence. Cats will only eat food that they think should be eaten. They won't eat something just because you tell them to.
Dogs have the same critical thinking skill, but they are more likely to defer to their owner's judgment. Dogs may eat something because their owner tells them to (not guaranteed, they will refuse some things, but are more lenient than their feline counterparts).

Furthermore, wouldn't you say that dogs have more issues with differentiating between a car and a large animal?
They are generally known to bark at cars, which is futile since a car cannot hear. Even though they've never seen a car respond to their barking, they keep doing it. The only reason they stop doing it is because they defer to their owner (who commanded them to not bark).

It is clearly seen that cats get afraid of cows or take defensive stand on seeing a cow.

I have no idea where you're getting this from. I've seen plenty of cats who were comfortable with large animals.

It's also interesting to note how cats were domesticated. The domestication of dogs was a willing process. Dogs wanted to be around us (for food reasons), which made it very easy to train them (for assistance/security).

Compared to dogs, cats have domesticated themselves. They have no desire to live with humans, but they can be convinced to do so if it benefits them.
Initially, feral cats preyed on mice and rats. These were abundantly found in e.g. stables, which means that cats started living near (but not with) humans. When rats were identified as carriers of the plague, humans wanted cats to also prey on the rats in their (the humans') houses. Therefore, humans started making their homes hospitable to cats, and cats independently agreed to this proposition.

Cats did not start off wanting to live with humans. Humans needed to actively make the environment (their home) desirable to cats, so that a cat would be happy to live there.

The fact that cats always rely on their own judgement, is a clear marker for intelligence. Not only is the cat smart enough to make judgments, it's also smart enough to trust its own judgment over that of anyone else.

But there's a more interesting consideration here: Cats used to live (or at least hunt) in stables. If your assumption were correct, that cats are undeniably afraid of large animals, then cats would not have lived/hunted in stables to begin with. Keep in mind that they chose to live/hunt there before they were domesticated, so they willingly chose to go live/hunt there.

But they don't care about moving vehicles. As if they know that vehicles are non living objects.

Your "as if" is unwarranted. You argue that cats behave differently between inanimate and animate objects. Then it's not "as if" cats are able to differentiate between the two, they actually are able to do so.

"As if" seems like a further suggestion that cats only seem intelligent, but in reality aren't.

Now, given the limited intellectual capability of cats, how is it possible for them to do so?

Again, the same incorrect premise defeats the question. Cats do not have a limited intellectual capability; at least when compared to any other similar domesticated animal.

I'm also quite astonished by your method of reasoning, which goes like this:

  • I know that cats are not intelligent.
  • But cats are able to do this intelligent thing.
  • How are cats able to do this intelligent thing, since they're not intelligent?

The last step is unwarranted. You're working under the idea that your assumption is more correct than your observation.

Instead, you should use your observation to challenge your assumption:

  • Since cats can do this intelligent thing, their intelligence must be high enough for them to be able to do this thing. I must have been mistaken by thinking cats are not intelligent.

Simple answer: From experience. You think they are too stupid to think, and that's why you can't see this in them. They realize that cars usually move one way. You'd see kittens still afraid of cars due to lack of experience, yet some may learn through their mothers that cars aren't a real threat. Besides, cats have much better hearing than us, and when they meet a new living creature they'd hear its breathing.

Also, don't ever underestimate a creature just because it's smaller in size. Even a bird knows a predator once it sees it. Also, anything you can train a dog can also be taught to a cat, whether they do it or not. They may know the request but don't have a reason to do it, and so you'd think they're stupid. Besides, any living creature knows when it sees another. Take for example babies. They'd get very excited if they see a cat or a dog, or even cheetahs in the zoo. It's just something you can't not know.

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