Can Cats Count?

You've likely heard the stories or seen the videos of a dog who seems to be equipped with the ability to count objects, or even add and subtract. While canines are known for their ability to associate things words and numbers, cats are another story. Cats are generally less likely to perform for or in front of their human counterparts, which has lead many to wonder: can cats count? It's a tough question to answer, thanks to an overall lack of research on the topic, but in some cases, cats have been believed to possess the ability to recognize different quantities.

A cat counts gold and silver coins. A rich cat
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Why would a cat need to count?

Research has shown that some animals have the ability to count, but why would an animal need to do so? According to Live Science, many animals count for safety, protection, and comfort. Monkeys and primates measure among the highest in terms of recognizing quantities, but other species, ranging from wolves to bears to fish to bees, have also been known to use their sense of numbers to help them in their daily life. Wildcats, such as lions, have been shown to possess the ability to relate numbers to sounds. Research has shown that when subjected to the sound of intrusive animals roaring, lion prides would either advance or retreat depending on how many animals it sounded like were approaching, apparently as a protective measure. Guppies have been seen joining larger shoals of fish as there is safety in numbers, making for a better chance of survival.

While wild animals may need to count to stay safe within their own packs and families, why would a domesticated cat need to know how to count? One popular opinion is that a cat would need to count to keep track of her litter. Messy Beast states, however, that cats are more likely to use their sense of smell or hearing to tell whether a kitten has gone missing, rather than count for individual members of the family.

Cute Sweet Pet Animal Kitty and Mom Cat
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Are cats capable of quantitative reasoning?

While multiple studies have been done on dogs and other animals, measuring research-based findings among cats has been historically tough, mostly due in part to their general unwillingness to participate in whatever the task at hand may be. Anyone with a cat will have little trouble believing that statement to be entirely true. One Italian study attempted to measure the numerical competency in cats, according to People, but made little headway as those featured in the study would often just walk away from the exercise. When cats would cooperate, however, researchers measured that cats have math skills similar to those of fish, which is considered to be very adept.

In the study, three black dots were placed above a desirable object, like a bowl of food, while only two black dots were placed over an undesirable object, like an empty bowl of food. The cats who actually cooperated did show signs of possessing the ability to understand the difference between the two items based on the differing quantities. Researchers suspected, however, that perhaps the cooperative cats were merely transfixed on the larger amount of black covering the space, rather than the individual quantities of the dots. Once the size of the black dots was increased, lo and behold, the cats were unable to distinguish the two, which suggests that perhaps cats are not capable of quantitative reasoning after all.

The big and lazy Maine Coon cat near the New Year tree with garlands
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Can cats count?

Whether they are finicky in nature or just bored with our antics, measuring a cat's ability to count is obviously no easy task, which makes it hard to say for sure whether they can or cannot do it. Additionally, not much research has been done on the issue, so it's hard to compare findings to reach a definitive conclusion. Slate assures that with experimental methods of measuring feline intelligence, like fMRI machines and eye-tracking technology, more headway can be made, which will hopefully someday give us more insight.