Between Cats and Dogs, Which Species is Smarter? Science Has the Answer

Fagjun | Published 2017-12-06 02:11

Researchers counted the neurons in the brains of cats and dogs, and discovered that one species has twice as many neurons as the other. So which one is smarter, and which one is going to need a little push in the right direction now and then?

Let's settle this feud once and for all.



It may not seem like it sometimes, especially after they struggle to learn to pee outside or to not chew on the furniture, but dogs are actually smarter than cats. There are dogs that can seem like lovable goofballs who mean the world to you but aren’t that bright, but we may be underestimating them a little too much. Whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, it may be difficult to argue with science.


Dogs have twice the neurons in their cerebral cortexes that cats do. A new study claims that this may suggest that dogs are smarter than cats. Our canine companions have 530 million cortical neurons, while our feline friends have about 250 million.

What Our Neurons Tell Us About Intelligence

Brewster, the Akita-pitbull mix involved in the study [Photo by Joel Sartore]



Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who oversaw the study, says that counting neurons is a good way to assess the potential intelligence that an animal may possess. “I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has, especially in the cerebral cortex, determines the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” she says. Thus, dogs are biologically more capable of being more complex than cats.


However, this doesn’t mean that cats are dumb. This may just mean that cats are less social than dogs. Dogs, as pack animals, need to learn a complex set of cooperative behaviors in order to survive. Cats, meanwhile, are much more independent. They can hunt alone for themselves if they have to, and they often do so.


For their study, the researchers focused on the part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which enables problem-solving and several other functions. The team analyzed the brain of a cat, a golden retriever, and a small mixed-breed dog. Two dogs were necessary because the size of dog brains vary. The findings showed that the intelligence of dogs is comparable to that of raccoons and lions, while the intelligence of cats is comparable to that of bears.

Comparing Brain Sizes

Comparing the brain sizes of 6 different carnivorous mammals [Photo by Suzana Herculano-Houzel/Vanderbilt University]



You may or may not be wondering, but it’s likely that humans are indeed the smartest animals on Earth (even though it doesn’t seem like it for much of the time). We have as many as 16 billion each, while our closest ape relatives have six to nine billion neurons per individual, depending on the species.


It has been suggested that animals with larger brains are likely more intelligent. However, this isn’t exactly true. For example, cats and bears have comparable intelligence, though a bear’s brain is about 10 times bigger than a cat’s.


Herculano-Houzel thinks that counting neurons is just one way to measure intelligence. However, at least for now, it’s the most effective way there is.

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