The 6 Smartest Pets To Own: Ranked and Explained!

Last Updated : October 21, 2021
Written by

Cat helping boy with homework - one of the smartest pets

We all know that some animals are smarter than others, but…

Which ones are the most intelligent pets?

This isn’t an easy question to answer — you can’t just give animals an I.Q. test like you would with people!

And scientists have been struggling with it for years…

But luckily for us, they’re pretty smart folks, and they’ve come up with many ways (tests, long-term studies, and comparisons) to assess an animal’s intelligence level.

A great example is ‘Aesop’s Fable test’ which checks an animal’s ability to recognize ’cause and effect’ and displace water to access food.

Pretty cool, right?

We think so.

And that’s why we armed ourselves with a bunch of research and compiled this handy list of the smartest pets around.

So if you stick around, you’ll discover:

  • The 6 smartest pet species,
  • 5 super-intelligent animals that you should NEVER get as a pet, and
  • Your next animal companion (hopefully)!

Let’s dive in!

P.S. Don’t take our final ranking as gospel… we could debate it all day!

The 6 Smartest Pets

1. Birds: The Most Intelligent Animals Around!

African Grey Parrot
African Grey Parrot

When it comes to being highly intelligent, some species of birds are far, far ahead of the rest of the pack!

Parrots and corvids (crows, ravens, magpies) are two of the smartest. They have proven time and time again that they possess incredible brain power and can complete tasks we’d typically think are reserved for humans.

Need a few examples of a clever bird?

Researchers at Harvard University surprised the world by showing us that an African Grey Parrot named Griffin was smarter than the typical four-year-old human.

Parrots can identify items, recognize shapes and colors, determine quantities, and even count. And let’s not forget that they can speak to us in human languages by developing vocabularies of hundreds of words!

And what about our other bird friends, ravens and crows?

They’re equally impressive! They can:

  • Multi-task
  • Use logic to solve complex problems and build tools
  • Recognize faces and individual people — they also harbor grudges, so be nice!
  • Understand water displacement
  • And even snowboard!

Simply wow! 😮

2. Pigs

Pig looking through gate
Pigs are super Smart (Even our beloved Guinea Pig)

We tend to think of pigs as either muddy farm animals or delicious bacon…

But, boy, oh boy, are we missing the whole picture!

Pigs are actually incredibly intelligent, social, and affectionate — truly well-deserving of second place on our list.

So what exactly is a pig capable of?

A lot.

They have a superb long-term memory, and they can easily recognize individual pigs and humans at first sight. They’re can also learn tricks (like dogs, and our beloved Guinea Pigs), understand emotions, and demonstrate empathy.

One study has even shown another important sign of intelligence:

Pigs can use a mirror and spatial awareness to find hidden food — something a young human would struggle with!

But don’t think even for a second that a pig only uses their intelligence for good…

Researchers and farmers alike have noticed that they deceive and manipulate one another in order to ‘hog’ more food. 🐷 😆

3. Dogs

Working Dog and Sheep trails
Working Dog at sheep herding trails

Who else but man’s best friend could complete the podium?

Dogs are one of our favorite pets, and it’s not only because they’re adorable and loyal…

There is a ton of gray matter behind those lovable canine faces — just ask any dog owner!

Dogs are fantastic at learning tricks, detecting human emotions, problem-solving, and understanding rules, human words, and commands.

According to several scientific studies, researchers have determined that the average dog is about as smart as a two- to three-year-old kid when it comes to language and math.

Not bad, Barky, not bad!

And what about the three most intelligent dog breeds? 🐶

Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd. In that exact order.

4. Rats: The Smartest Small Pets!

smart white rat
Rats are very intelligent and make great pets

What did our beloved pet rats say when we broke the news that they had missed out on a medal?

‘Rats! We really deserved one!’

Luckily, we managed to cheer them up (a bit) by telling them that they were crowned as the smartest small animals in the world.

Not the humblest of fellows, right? 🐭

No problem — they more than make up for it in intelligence and charm!

Despite still suffering from a bad rep, these little creatures are extraordinary house pets and awesome laboratory animals.

Why?

  1. Rats have brains that are astonishingly similar to humans — perfect for researchers’ needs!
  2. They have a great memory and can easily recognize their owner and their own name.
  3. They learn super quickly — most tricks and puzzles are no match for them!
  4. Rats are actually very clean.
  5. They’re remarkably social and affectionate — cuddles are always on the table!

5. Cats

A lot of people don’t regard cats as being highly intelligent animals…

They’re wrong, of course, but these felines have no one else to blame but themselves for this poor reputation!

If we judge their intelligence using the same standards and tests we do for other animals, cats often perform poorly. But it’s not because they lack brain power…

It’s rather because they lack the patience and motivation to even try.

But if we overlook the fact that a cat will only do what they feel like, we discover an ingenious animal with far more neurons than dogs.

They possess good long-term memories, are skilled at problem-solving, learning tricks, and even understanding basic commands. But they’ll most likely ignore these unless there’s food involved. 🐈

Fun fact:

Abyssinians, Scottish Folds, Siamese, and Bengals are amongst the most intelligent cat breeds, so pick one of these if you’re after a smarter pet!

6. Horses

Rider jumping over a fence with her horse
Rider jumping over a fence with her horse

Last on our list of the smartest pets around are horses.

They aren’t for everyone, though — they’re a huge responsibility, literally!

You need to provide them with a stable to live in, a ‘horseload’ of food, and tons of exercise.

But if you’re able to pull it off, you’ll enjoy spending time with one of the smartest animals on Earth.

Horses display their high intelligence level primarily through their unbelievable talent for communicating with humans. They’re gifted at understanding words, tones, and emotions, but it isn’t just a one-way street:

Horses can also ‘speak’ with you through a series of vocal cues, facial expressions, and body movements!

Other great equine qualities include their ability to learn quickly, obey commands with ease, and solve simple problems.

And oh yeah, there’s one more added benefit of owning a horse:

They’re a great form of environmentally friendly transportation!

Next up:

5 Ridiculously Smart Animals That Aren’t Pets

As we were prepping this article, we noticed that some websites mention a few animals in their ‘smartest pets’ posts…

Which are DEFINITELY NOT pets.

So, to make sure you don’t get the wrong idea, we’ve added this extra section to our post.

Here, we can marvel responsibly at these five creatures’ incredible intelligence without imagining them in our living rooms or backyards!

Chimpanzees (and Other Primates)

It’s not a surprise that chimpanzees, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, are some of the smartest animals in the world.

They can make and use tools, display complex emotions (like empathy, grief, and regret), recognize themselves in a mirror, and even learn sign language in order to chat with humans. As near relatives, their brains are a close to a human brain as any other animal

But most impressive of all is their exceptional short-term memory, which puts us to shame…

If you don’t believe us, check out this interactive study where you can challenge a chimpanzee!

P.S. Bonobos are also incredibly smart — they even know how to cook!

Dolphins

Certainly not pets, and best seen in the wild – Dolphins are extremely smart

A dolphin is another wild animal well-known for being crazy smart.

They’re often called the ‘second smartest animals on Earth’ because their brain-to-body size ratio is second only to ours. Researchers say that this super brain gives dolphins the ability to be self-aware, communicate in ‘dolphin language,’ and engage in clever yet mischievous behavior like cheating!

Elephants

What is it that an elephant is famous for again?

Ah yes…

An elephant never forgets a face (or a watering hole)!

Aside from this awe-inspiring talent, studies have shown that elephants are also skilled at using tools and communicating with other elephants and humans. They even have a specific sound for identifying bees that has won them online fame:

Squirrels and Raccoons

These two smart forest critters definitely deserve their place in this article — they’re both incredibly cunning animals that specialize in robberies.

Squirrels are altruistic masters of deception, trickery, and burying booty, while raccoons are experts at picking locks, being lookouts (thanks to their great hearing), and solving complex problems.

So definitely hire a squirrel and a raccoon if you’re planning a comical burglary!

Summing up the Smartest Animals in the World

By now, you should be able to answer any question about smart pets and animal intelligence…

But, as a bit of reminder, here’s a quick snapshot of how we ranked our best friends:

  1. Birds (particularly the African Grey Parrot)
  2. Pigs
  3. Dogs (notably the Border Collie)
  4. Rats
  5. Cats
  6. Horses

Be sure to put this newfound knowledge to good use — either decide on your next pet companion or invite your friends over for an animal-based trivia night!

Just remember that if you do adopt a smart pet, you’ll need to provide them with the extra mental stimulation and challenges they crave. It’ll do both of you good, but it’ll take up a lot of your time and energy!

Happy intellectual bonding! 🦜 🐷 🐶 🐭 🐱 🐴

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.