The idea that dogs are more intelligent than cats has been called into question.
Japanese scientists say cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, suggesting they may be just as smart.
A study – involving 49 domestic cats – shows felines can recall memories of pleasant experiences, such as eating a favourite snack.
Dogs show this type of recollection – a unique memory of a specific event known as episodic memory.
Humans often consciously try to reconstruct past events that have taken place in their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast, their first day in a new job or a family wedding.
These memories are linked with an individual take on events, so they are unique to that person.
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Saho Takagi, a psychologist at Kyoto University, said cats, as well as dogs, used memories of a single past experience, which may imply they have episodic memory similar to that of humans.
“Episodic memory is viewed as being related to introspective function of the mind; our study may imply a type of consciousness in cats,” she told BBC News.
“An interesting speculation is that they may enjoy actively recalling memories of their experience like humans.”
The Japanese team tested 49 domestic cats on their ability to remember which bowl they had already eaten out of and which remained untouched, after a 15-minute interval.
They found the cats could recall “what” and “where” information about the food bowls, suggesting they had episodic memory.
The researchers suggest cats may remember for much longer periods than the short time tested.
And they say cats can match dogs on various mental tests, including responding to human gestures, facial expressions and emotions.
Saho Takagi said the research may have practical applications.
“Understanding cats more deeply helps to establish better cat-human relationships,” she said.
“Cats may be as intelligent as dogs, as opposed to the common view of people that dogs are much smarter.”
Prof Laurie Santos, of Yale University, said the experiment nicely shows that cats are remembering information about where they searched before and also which locations used to have food.
“It opens the door to new studies examining how long cats’ memories can be and whether they also remember richer episodes in their own life as humans do,” she added.
Experiments have shown dogs also appear to have memories linked to specific times and places.
The same team of Japanese scientists previously found that in similar tests, dogs had memories of food bowls from which they had eaten.
And last year, a team from Hungary found that dogs were able to recall their owner’s actions, even when they were not specifically instructed to do so.
The research is published in the journal, Behavioural Processes.
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