Are dogs smarter than cats? Research finally gives us the answer


Science seems to have solved the age-old debate of which domestic animal companion reigns supreme. When it comes to mental prowess, dogs apparently rule.

A recent study has shown that cats have roughly 250 million cortical neurons. That number just falls way short of the 530 million that dogs are supposed to have. The number of cortical neurons in the brain is an indication of intelligence, as it’s associated with the thought process, planning, and various complex behaviors of animal species.

According Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, “How many neurons you have in your cerebral cortex, I believe, is a major determinant of your biological capabilities.” Dr. Herculano-Houzel is a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University and is also a co-author of the study. She can also be credited for developing the method that can be used to measure the precise number of brain neurons in a species.

While Dr. Herculano-Houzel claims to be a dog person all the way, she claims that the findings from the study suggest that dogs are capable of performing far more complex things and can be more adaptable compared to cats.

Just last year, neuroscientists Professor Ursula Dicke and Professor Gerhard Roth published a Royal Soceity journal article that reinforces the role of cortical neurons in the presentation of intelligence. According to their study, cortical neurons could naturally be the “neurobiological basis of intelligence.”

The dog versus cat discussion of intelligence has never conclusively factored biology before, and Dr. Herculano-Houzel is suggesting that biology can finally close all arguments. These latent findings were part of a study published in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. Dr. Herculano-Houzel and a team of neuroscientists were researching the relationships and correlations between brain sizes and the number of cortical neurons available in a variety of mammalian carnivores. In addition to canines and felines, the team of scientists also studied brains of bears, lions, hyenas, mongooses, and raccoons.

The initial assumption was that carnivores should have higher numbers of cortical neurons, since hunting rationally requires higher cognition than mere grazing. However, their findings showed that the ratio of brain size to cortical neurons were low, especially in larger carnivorous mammals. The same result applies with the same brain size to cortical neurons ratio in herbivorous mammals. In short, although bear brains are 10 times larger than cat brains, both have the equal amount of neurons.

The research concluded that while a carnivorous diet satisfies a brain’s tremendous requirement of energy for cognitive function, that same diet also has to account for the amount of physical energy required to maintain a larger body. There exists a subtle balance in between brains and brawns, as the study has shown.