If you’re an impassioned pet parent, the age old question of “are cats smarter than dogs?” might fire you up more than a political debate during Thanksgiving dinner. Those who prefer to keep feline friends around have definitely taken note as to how they plot and scheme their way around the house, including how they manage to find the most creative resting places. And similarly, those who love canine companions are definitely going to believe dogs are smarter after watching them use their senses to keep track of people, places, and things, and to navigate their world.
Of course it doesn’t matter which one actually is smarter. We love our pets no matter what. But it is kind of fun to think about the science and research behind it all. Is there an answer to the question: are cats smarter than dogs? Let's find out.
How brain size & neurons factor in
In the brain, neurons pass and fire information all day long. And according to Britannica, dogs possess an average of 530 million neurons in the cortex, while cats have only about 250 million. Unfortunately, research is limited on what this actually reveals about the intelligence levels of cats and dogs. For context, humans have about 16 billion neurons in the brain.
It is thought that more neurons can mean a higher intelligence, however, since cats and dogs have vastly different roles and habits, some scientists conclude that comparisons are illogical. Sarah Benson-Amram, a research scientist at University of Wyoming's Animal Behavior and Cognition lab, says that she and her colleagues have conducted research that supports the notion that larger brain size in carnivorous animals leads to better problem solving skills, but, “there's little evidence to say larger brain size universally leads to higher intelligence.”
How sociability affects intelligence
The issue with the brain size debate is that there are so many more factors to consider. Scientists who measured the amount of neurons in cats' and dogs' brains, for example, didn’t observe their behavior, conduct IQ tests, or measure their sociability in their preferred environments (homes).
There’s a similar conclusion when it comes to comparing sociability levels to intelligence levels. According to Britannica, dogs have been studied in social cognition research for decades, while very limited similar studies exist for cats. However, both species have evolved over time and show great intelligence when it comes to finding food and survival.
So, are cats smarter than dogs?
Unfortunately, there’s no conclusive answer to this question. Much more research is needed to determine which species is smarter. However, if the hypothesis that more neurons equals a higher intelligence level ever proves to be true, that would make dogs smarter by a landslide.
Either way, it’s fun to wonder and learn a little more about this debate, especially if you’re someone who has both dogs and cats at home. The next time you watch them problem solve or interact with each other, you might just want to pay closer attention and draw your own conclusions.