Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Intelligence: Dogs vs Cats


Photo by Douglas Sprott,

A new study seems to have provided an answer to the age-old question of who is smarter: dogs or cats? The speculation before the study was conducted was that hunting may require extra brain cells (neurons). If true, that would mean that cats would have more neurons than dogs.

My apologies to all of the cat lovers out there. The findings from the study suggest that dogs may actually be more intelligent than cats. Well, really the data show that dogs have more neurons (530 million) in their brain than cats (250 million). Interestingly, dogs had more neurons than any other carnivore they examined, including brown bears, African lions and striped hyenas, even though these other animals have larger brains than dogs. In fact, brown bears and cats have a lot in common when it comes to the number of neurons. Raccoons, on the other hand, have brains the size of a cat with neuron numbers similar to dogs.

Study author Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel (Vanderbilt University) was quoted in Science Alert, “…our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.”

Of course, any cat lover out there may argue that the number of neurons an animal has may not be related to its intelligence. The lack of data on intelligence in cats may just be related to feline unwillingness to cooperate with research studies. I found a funny article from Live Science that attempted to tackle this question several years ago. In the article, they referred to a study that was conducted in 2009 that tried to test whether cats, like fish, could tell the difference between groups with varying numbers of objects. Study author Christian Agrillo was quoted in Slate, “I can assure you that it’s easier to work with fish than cats.” The study ultimately concluded that cats could be trained to tell the difference, but it was not an inherent ability. Other studies have showed that cats can solve puzzles to obtain food, just like dogs. But, if the puzzle cannot be solved, the cats will keep trying to get the food whereas the dogs will give up and seek help. Perhaps that just means that dogs have become accustomed to asking humans for help, while cats remain largely independent.

To end this argument, I think we should just consider having pet raccoons.


Science Alert 

Jardim-Messeder D, Lambert K, Noctor S, Pestana FM, de Castro Leal ME, Bertelsen MF, Alagaili AN, Mohammad OB, Manger PR, Herculano-Houzel S. Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species.

Live Science

Categories: Feline, Intelligence and Neuroscience, Pets

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