Dog and cat people all over the world have asked themselves this question: Are cats smarter than dogs, or is it the other way around? Dog lover think that dogs are smarter, while cat lovers claim the opposite. But what does science say?
Let’s first cover the basics and clarify what intelligence actually is.
What is intelligence?
Wikipedia defines intelligence as the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
When we’re talking about animals, the right term would be animal cognition.
Animal cognition encompasses the mental capacities of non-human animals. Cognition involves processing information, from sensing the environment to making decisions based on available information.
Are cats smarter than dogs, or is it the other way around?
The decades long debate may now come to an end.
It turns out that dogs have about twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortex than cats do. That could theoretically suggest that dogs are in fact smarter than cats. But it that really the case? Let’s find out.
Journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy published this study. Researchers from six different universities in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa contributed to the research.
What are neurons?
One of the authors, neurologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained: “Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is.”
In the research, the scientists used only the part of the brain named the cerebral cortex. If you have some basic knowledge in anatomy you’ll know that the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that does the “thinking”. It allows us to make decisions and solve problems based on the information he gets from outside stimulation such as touch or sight.
Three different brains were studied: One from a cat, one from a golden retriever, and one from a mixed-breed dog. Two different dog brains have been used because canines vary so much in size, and therefore their brains do too.
Are neurons the right way to measure intelligence?
Now we know that dogs have more neurons than cats. But what does that actually mean? Is that a clear sign that they are more intelligent? Or are cats still smarter than dogs, even with less neurons? Let’s try to answer that.
How many neurons do dogs have?
In each of the dog’s brain, the researchers found about 500 million neurons. While in the cat’s brain they found only half the number, so about 250 million. While a human’s brain has about 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex.
Based on these numbers, dogs have roughly the same intelligence as lions. On the other side, cats have a comparable intelligence to bears
It’s unclear if the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex can exactly measure intelligence. But what is known is that humans have by far the highest number of neurons in their cerebral cortex. It it widely believed that humans are the smartest species on earth. So you decide for yourself.
Final answer: Are cats smarter than dogs?
It’s often that dogs are smarter than cats. Mostly because dogs are easier to train. But longtime cat owners believe that cats are smarter because they don’t want to be trained. They want to train you.
So, what is the answer? We’ll be a bit philosophical here and say that the answer is: Whatever you want it to be.
Scientifically, yes. Dogs are smarter than cats. They have more neurons and therefore better cognitive abilities. That doesn’t mean that cats aren’t smart.
The study is also significantly limited because there wasn’t a way to test every breed of dogs or cats. The information provided in this study isn’t true for every breed of dogs or cats.
Either way, like we already said – both of them are very smart. But in different ways. Let’s put it this way: While dogs are more “book smart”, cats have a tendency to be very “street smart”. Cats are very independent creatures and know how to care for themselves. Dogs on the other hand are very oriented towards their owners,. They want to help and learn new tricks that would please them.
These two species are radically different, and their intelligence shouldn’t be compared in such black and white ways.
If you want to know how smart golden retrievers are, read this.