Maine Coons are many things: they are large sturdy cats with beautiful shaggy, coats; they are friendly with sociable personalities; they are energetic and playful.
All of these attributes have made them popular family pets. These gentle giants are regularly compared to dogs and many people are interested to know how smart they are in comparison.
You can find all sorts of online tests from those claiming to measure your cat’s IQ to others suggesting how to test if your cat is brainy.
So, are Maine Coons are intelligent? Maine Coons definitely exhibit some forms of intelligent behavior. They display a fair amount of mental ability, can handle new situations and solve problems in their day to day life. They become adept at communicating their every need to their owners.
It is claimed that Maine Coons can be trained but I think these clever creatures are far more successful at training us. And if that’s not a sign of intelligence, I don’t know what is.
How Are Maine Coons Intelligent?
Intelligence is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Cats learn through experience and use this to solve problems they come across on a daily basis.
As kittens, Maine Coons learn from their mothers and siblings and once they are parted from them they continue to learn through their own experiences and with direction from their owners.
What Kittens Learn From Their Mothers and Litter-mates
What To Eat
Kittens learn what they should and should not eat by following their mother’s example. They will basically eat what she likes to eat and not touch foods she dislikes. Maybe we can blame their mother if our cat is a fussy eater.
Tiny kittens only go to the toilet if they are stimulated to so so and their mother achieves this by licking them until they begin to urinate and defecate by themselves.
When they become old enough to use a litter box they learn this from Mother too. And all that digging, scraping, and burying is part of the lesson.
There is a very good reason for this – not to hide their
Safety and Danger
Kittens learn what is and isn’t a threat from their mother. Kittens are continually meeting new situations and have to learn when to be wary and how to judge what is and isn’t a threat, be it a dog, another cat or a person. They are shown how to make a getaway if necessary.
How To Socialize
Kittens learn the joy of playing and having fun with their siblings. This is an invaluable skill that stays with them for life.
When a single kitten goes to a new home it will miss the company of its family which is why it is best to get two kittens if possible at the same time. This way they will get along and facilitate each other’s learning for life.
Kittens learn from their mother and litter-mates at an early age about territory and sharing. Two kittens from the same litter are more likely to get on and share a space than two strangers.
How To Hunt
Kittens are born with a natural instinct to hunt but have to learn how to fine tune this. Their mother teaches them the moves for success: seeking out, stalking and capturing.
Quite often this involves toys but mother cats have been known to bring in a live mouse for a hands-on lesson.
As kittens often use their teeth and claws during play, they have to learn to limit the force they use. When they are on the receiving end of a bite or a scratch they realize just how much it hurts and learn to moderate their behavior.
What Cats Learn From Their Owners
What You Sound Like
Cats don’t really distinguish different faces but they do learn to recognize different voices.
How You Smell
A cat learns who is who by scent – not your expensive cologne or perfume but your underlying, natural body odor.
Maine Coons do learn their name. Though they might not come running every time you call, you should definitely notice their ears twitch as you call them by their name.
If you feed a Maine Coon a the same times each day it will soon learn to appear at the feeding area at the right times.
A Maine Coon learns a variety of ways to communicate its requirements to its owners. Meowing is something that cats do at humans, not other cats.
A Maine Coon will remember how you react to specific noises and will use them again and again. One meow might mean open the door, another might be to ask for food and another might be its way of announcing its arrival in a room.
If you fit one of these a Maine Coon will quickly learn how to use it to go outside. It will remember where it is immediately when it wants to come back in.
Where Water Comes From
Many Maine Coons like to drink flowing water and they learn that it comes from a faucet. Many will sit and meow for someone to come and turn it on.
Beware of teaching a Maine Coon to turn the tap itself. I know people who have done this. The cat is highly unlikely to turn it off when it has finished!
Most Maine Coons learn how to push a door open if it is not shut tight. Some work out how to hook one towards them to gain entry to a room. A few will even manage to pull down a lever-type handle to open a door that is closed.
Finding Their Way Home
Maine Coons leave little scent marks as they explore new territory as they wander and use these to find their way home. The main reason for this method to fail is if they are frightened and run further with no time to leave a scent trail.
They Know What They Don’t Like
Maine Coons can associate bad feelings with objects. For instance, they know the sight of their cat carrier means a trip to the vet. They will try to hide to avoid the trip.
Our two Maine Coons know that suitcases mean we are going away. They behave differently, it really seems like they sulk.
They Learn Your Routines
A Maine Coon will come to your bedroom a the same time every morning. If you work it will meet you outside (if it’s allowed outside) or appear inside the front door as place the key in the lock.
They Learn By Association
A Maine Coon can be taught to associate a noise with an event. Ours know the tapping of a china plate is food time because we did this as we fed them from the first day.
Now we can use this to get them to come indoors any time we want them. We have to give them food though, or otherwise, it will lose its appeal.
Can We Really Test a Maine Coon’s Intelligence
Maine Coons have a natural intelligence which has lead to them adapt well to live with people and get them to look after their needs in life.
But what about beyond the basics? Are Maine Coons intelligent enough to solve puzzles, find hidden treats and learn tricks?
Some owners have successfully trained Maine Coons. You might be able to apply a few of these techniques to your cat.
Are Maine Coons who perform tricks smarter than those that don’t? There is no way of really proving this but if you want to believe that a cat who is trainable is more intelligent than one who is not then there is no harm in thinking it is.
Is a cat who can play fetch more intelligent than one that won’t? One of our Maine Coons loves this game (with a hairband), but only when he’s in the mood.
If he doesn’t want to play it I could throw the hairband all day long and he’ll totally ignore it. Our other cat has never played fetch but he is equally as bright as his brother.
Trying Out Intelligence Tests
I decided to see if Harry, our red Maine Coon, could complete a test which involves retrieving a treat from under a cup. Harry loves ham so I gave him a piece.
He thought it was Christmas! I then let him see me place a piece under a cup. He just stared at the cup and did nothing.
I lifted the cup to show him the ham and then replaced the cup. He nudged the cup and retrieved the ham. Does this mean he is intelligent?
I added two more cups and showed Harry a piece of ham being placed under one. He just sat there. I lifted the cup and replaced it then shuffled the cups. He sniffed the right cup.
I lifted it to show him the ham. He then pushed it and ate the ham. I didn’t come away feeling he is more intelligent than I thought he was before.
Maine Coons are intelligent but how intelligent they are is something we can only hazard a guess at.
Some are more lively, some are more inquisitive, some are more entertaining, some are more loving and some will even perform tricks.
The one thing you can guarantee is that you just can’t guarantee exactly how a Maine Coon will act – you will just have to wait and see.
You’ll find plenty more Maine Coon information, in our Complete Guide to Maine Coon Cats