Cats vs Dogs: Which One Is Smarter? New Study Sheds Light On Debate

By Carl Velasco | Dec 04, 2017 09:50 PM EST

When it comes to pets, particularly cats and dogs, the notion that the latter is smarter than the former is particularly common among owners. But now, science can back it up.

According to a new study, dogs have about twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortex than cats have, which implies they could be as twice as intelligent as well.

Dogs Are Smarter Than Cats, Apparently

The study has been provisionally accepted by the Frontiers in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy journal.

A team of researchers hailing from six universities across the globe, including United States, South Africa, Brazil, and Denmark, all contributed to the study, one of which is Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a notable neurologist who has been, for the past decade, studying the cognitive performance of both humans and animals.

Herculano-Houzel was instrumental in elevating the research method — until recently, scientists compared intelligence of different species by measuring their respective brain sizes, but the mere size is an insufficient indicator.

"In 2005, my lab developed a very simple, fast and inexpensive method to count cells in brains and brain parts," said Herculano-Houzel. So the researchers took brain matter and turned it into soup, as CNN puts it. This process freed up the cell nuclei and then allowed the team to count the neurons using a microscope.

Counting Neurons

The study focused on the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes decision-making and problem solving, among other cognitive abilities. Per the words of Herculano-Houzel, it's the region that gives complexity and flexibility.

So they counted.

They discovered that a cat's cerebral cortex has 250 million neurons, but a 15-pound mixed breed dog has 429 million. But when they looked at a 64-pound golden retriever's brain, they found an even higher neuron count of 627 million.

While it's hard to conclude directly that dogs are smarter than cats, their higher neuron count suggests that dogs have far better cognitive abilities than cats.

"Neurons are the basic information processing units," said Herculano-Houzel. "The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is."

Just for comparisons, humans have the most number of neurons by far, as many as 16 billion. Meanwhile, orangutans and gorillas have around 8 to 9 billion, which might not be as much as humans but is already a close number.

Unless a new research contradicts this one, it's safe to say, for now, that dogs are smarter than cats, or it's more accurate to say that they have far more neurons, which means they might be cognitively advantageous than felines.

Sorry, Garfield.

If it helps, dogs are sloppier than cats, at least.

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