There is an age-old argument to determine which are more intelligent - cats or dogs. But comparing interspecies intelligence becomes futile as it changes based on the tested skill, as pointed on in PBS's 2018 feature "Which is Smarter, Cats or Dogs? We asked a Scientist." "Consider hunting abilities, for example. Cats sit on the skilled end of the spectrum, while dogs sit in the middle and humans near the low end. But if we test the three on math, humans shift toward the intelligent side while dogs and cats move away." In other words, if we measure the skill of hunting, cats would come out as being most intelligent, but if we assess the ability of math, cats come out at least capable. The cat species survival is evidence of their intelligence. Of the three species - cats, dogs, and humans - cats are the only one who is both predator and prey. It is this role within the food chain that drives their intelligence.
Because “Cats display a lot of individual variation and have distinct personalities," it makes "it hard for researchers to understand them” (Shivni). It also makes it hard for cat owners to fully predict the level at which their cat will need to express its keen hunting skills to live a satisfying life. But we do know that animals do get bored. Researchers discovered that "animals in confined, empty spaces avidly seek stimulation, which is consistent with boredom" (Meagher). How bored will your cat be in an unstimulating environment? That will depend on the cat. Stereotypically, Bengals get bored more easily because they tend to have higher-than-average intelligence. Lack of stimulation can lead to depression (Ingber). While veterinarians will treat depression with medication, many ways exist to stave off boredom and depression.
One of the most important ways to keep boredom and depression at bay is through interactive play. However, most people cannot spend the majority of every day playing with their cats. While exercising the body is essential, with highly intelligent cats, like the Bengal, it is equally important to stimulate their minds. There are a lot of toys available today that will help you exercise your cats' brains.
All of these mind puzzles do require treats. As species-appropriate raw feeders, choosing the right treat is essential. A treat should not add carbohydrates into the cat's body and alter its metabolic rate or stomach acid balance. We have a few go-to treats. First is Ziwi Peak's air-dried cat food. While we do not recommend this as a food because it lacks water - a necessary ingredient in cat food - it makes an awesome treat. We use the Lamb or Lamb and Mackeral varieties because they offer the cats protein sources (lamb and mackerel) that are different from their most frequently fed food, and they include a variety of organs in the food. These bits of organs are like vitamins for cats. However, treat variety is the spice of life, so we do not stop at the Ziwi Peak foods. We offer various freeze-dried meats, focusing on liver and heart or on proteins that are different from what we typically feed: shrimp, salmon, duck, or any other meat that is different from the typical proteins we feed for meals. By making smart choices, the treats are healthy and not something you need to consider limiting the frequency of use.
One of the most creative things you can do is hide treat-filled toys in different spots throughout your house. Once your cat figures out that hidden treat toys are somewhere out there, it will spend some time looking for them. This engages your cat's brain in the activity of hunting. While the cat's hunt is not likely to be physically strenuous, it will be mentally challenging, which will help keep your cat satisfied. The cat-made treat dispensers are great for hiding in small spots. However, the dispenser will not likely hold up to a dog's chewing if you also have a dog in the house. We learned this the hard way. No problem, though. Just buy treat dispensers that are made for dogs, and hide them. If the dog finds it - after the cat, of course - it won't be destroyed by their chewing.
Our cats also enjoy the tower-type puzzle and the digging puzzle. The tower seems to be the easiest for them. Our cats will crowd all around and let the big guy bat the treats down from the top while they move in and grabs the bits that fall to the bottom. This aspect of the game is more fun than stimulating. But at some point, they need to get the treats that have fallen to the intermediate levels, and that is when the brain must work out to stick their paws in through the slots. If thinking about getting the food tree, we find it helpful to have the ball circuit around the bottom for stability. The digger toy tends to take them a while to figure out initially. We discovered that putting more odiferous treats down in the bottom helped them figure out how to get to the treat. Once they know how to do it, they don't forget.
Of all the puzzles we've offered our cats, they have to work the most for the one that spins to release the treat. Not all of our cats have figured out how to spin this. They capitalize on the profits produced by those in the know. We like this toy a lot because of its complexity.
The puzzles with movable trays and parts are great for the cats, but they become routine once they figure it out. It didn't take our cats too long to have all the puzzle pieces figured out. However, in our multi-cat home, some still benefit from the brains of others. In a home with just a few cats, it will take longer to figure the puzzles out as they won't learn from others. Puzzles are great toys to use sporadically. Fill it up before you go to work, set it out and leave it. Once the cat has it all figured out, put it away for a while. When you bring it back out, perhaps, you can hide it. Even if the puzzle is completed faster the second time, it is still exercising your cat's brain to figure out how to get into all the slots, which helps keep your cat happy and healthy.
There are great mind and health benefits to creating opportunities for your cat to watch live prey species while ensuring the prey species are safe. The easiest way is to set up bird feeders outside your windows and provide a window perch for your cat to sit on. Their brain's mental activity will spike while watching the birds and wishing they could get to them for a hunt. The birds will quickly learn that the cat is safely behind the glass window, and soon, they won't bother about the cat's movement. Similarly, if you get an aquarium and ensure the top is secure and cat-proof, the aquarium provides quite a bit of mental exercise for your cat.
Most behavioral or depressive problems can be solved through proper diet and proper physical and mental stimulation. If you are experiencing any unwanted behaviors in your cat, try enriching its environment to see if this changes the behavior. While physical play is an absolute, exercising the mind is equally important. Creating mind games through these toys will give you a happier, healthier Bengal.
People wanting a quick link to the different toys and treats we use with our cats, please see our page Quality Products - Mind Puzzles for Cats.