Dog vs Cat Intelligence: Which Species is Smarter

A joint study between six universities from the US, Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa has found that dogs have twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex compared to cats. We will discuss dog vs cat intelligence. Specifically, dogs had around 530 million neurons, whereas cats only had 250 million neurons, which suggests that dogs are more intelligent.

dog vs cat intelligence

Dog vs Cat Intelligence: which species is smarter

What is intelligence? In people, intelligence generally refers to the ability to remember details, like facts, as well as the ability to solve complex and creative problems. Scientific studies seem to test whether dogs or cats can learn commands or perform certain tasks.

“Dogs are typically introduced to strange people and places as part of their daily lives (walks, car rides, doggie daycare, and so on) and have a long history of cooperation with humans throughout our species’ evolution,” explains Dr. Valuska. “Dogs have also been selectively bred for specific behavioral traits. The result? dog vs cat intelligence are primed for success when scientists want to take them into a lab or barge into their homes and ask them to perform.”

dog vs cat intelligence

But this technique for testing cat intelligence does not work. This is because cats have different social lives and most likely domesticated themselves. Cats are not selectively bred for desired traits like dogs, and they tend to be more independent. “As a result, getting cats to participate in the same experiments that have shown off dogs’ smarts can be difficult,” explains Dr. Valuska. “However, I think it is a mistake to assume that this difficulty speaks to a lack of cat intelligence!”

For comparison, we humans have around 16 billion neurons in our cerebral cortex. This is the highest number by far. Our closest relatives, orangutans, and gorillas only have around 8-9 billion neurons, so we can safely claim the smartest species title dog vs cat intelligence.

dog vs cat intelligence

It is a common misconception among scientists that brain size is the main factor that determines intelligence, and that bigger equals smarter. In this case, bigger does not mean better.

The research found that larger animals with larger brains such as lions and bears had fewer neurons than smaller ones such as dog vs cat intelligence. Furthermore, animals that had similar brain sizes could have significantly different numbers of neurons. This suggests that brain size is not the main factor in determining intelligence.

Although dog lovers would be delighted about these results, we should be cautious when comparing species based on intelligence. This is because each species has evolved in a specific way that enables them to solve problems that are most critical to their survival and reproduction.

dog vs cat intelligence

For example, if we consider hunting ability, cats will outsmart us and dogs. But if it was a maths problem, we will win over dogs and cats any day.

So regardless of how many neurons your dog or cat has, or how smart science says your pet may be, please love them all dog vs cat intelligence.

The researchers were particularly interested in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain linked with intelligence because it controls complex thought processes such as decision-making and planning. The more densely packed the neurons are in a species’ cerebral cortex, the more intelligent that species is considered to be. For example, primates, renowned for their smarts, have brains with very dense neurons.

dog vs cat intelligence

Eight species of Carnivora were included in the study, with one or two sample animals from each species. The one domestic cat and the two dogs (one Golden Retriever and one dog of unspecified breed) used by the researchers died of natural causes, and their bodies were donated to science.

Images were made of the structure of each animal’s brain, and the brain’s weight was measured for purposes of size comparison. Then, to determine the exact number of neurons, each brain was dissolved, and the number of cells in a sample of the resulting liquid was counted under a microscope. This sample count was used to estimate the number of cells in the complete brain.

Before dog people start saying, “I told you so,” to their cat-loving friends, it’s important to keep in mind that the researchers looked at very small sample size. There was only one cat and two dogs in the study. However, it’s almost certain that the trend would stay the same, even with more animals included. The neuron counts were too far apart to simply be a case of individual variation.

dog vs cat intelligence

But what does intelligence mean when comparing different species? As Brian Hare, the founder and director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center told PBS, this question is fundamental. Many scientists reject this term because they consider intelligence is mistakenly studied from a human perspective, even though different species may be intelligent in different ways. 

Each species evolved facing the challenges needed to survive. “Seeing a dolphin sitting in a tree looks as silly as a chimpanzee fishing in the sea. But research shows that both dolphins and chimps are geniuses in their natural habitats,” Hare explained dog vs cat intelligence.

Science might shed some light on the dogs versus cat debate by offering an answer regarding the species’ intelligence. However, every pet lover will agree that they are both intelligent in their way.  Both cats and dogs deserve to be equally loved regardless of how many neurons they have!

dog vs cat intelligence

The findings include:

  • In associative learning, dogs do not exhibit any unusual advantages over other animals.
  • Dogs do have an excellent sense of smell, but similar abilities have been found in other animals, including pigs, horses, and cats.
  • Physical cognition in dogs is not unique, and their performance is about the same as wolves, cats, bottlenose dolphins, and horses.
  • In spatial tasks, dogs are not more exceptional than other animals.

More importantly, the scientists didn’t test the intelligence of living dogs and cats with animal IQ tests or even observe the animals’ behavior dog vs cat intelligence. The results are based on brain cells alone. So, although dogs have greater potential than cats, we have no proof they are using their brains’ full capabilities. In truth, there is no better animal at being a cat than a cat, and nothing can be a dog quite as well as a dog. And as for which one makes the better pet? It all depends on who you ask.

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