The ongoing debate over whether dogs or cats are the smarter species has divided pet lovers throughout history. It turns out, however, that the answer to this is not as straightforward as dog and cat fans would like. So, is it possible to answer the question: who is smarter: dogs or cats?
Intelligence is typically studied from a human-centric perspective. When it comes to dogs and cats, each species has been shaped by evolution to solve the problems most critical to its survival and reproduction. With this, some scientists conclude that we should avoid pitting different species against each other because they’re intelligent in different ways. There is no better animal at being a cat than a cat, and no one can be a dog quite as well as a dog.
It is difficult to determine definitively which species is smarter, as intelligence can be measured and compared in many different ways. One metric commonly used to determine intellect is brain size and composition.
When it comes to comparing the brains of dogs and cats, the cerebral cortex, the layer of the brain that controls functions such as problem-solving and decision-making, tends to have many more neurons in dogs than in cats. The cerebral cortex of the brain is involved in many higher-level processes, including thought, association and memory. Neurons are the basic information processing units. While dogs possess on average about 530 million neurons in the cortex, cats have only about 250 million— nearly half the amount found in dogs.
The more neurons an animal has in its cerebral cortex, the more information it can process, and the richer its mental capabilities likely are. This means that dogs have the potential for more complex and flexible behavior than cats. However, a direct correlation between larger brain size and increased intelligence has not been conclusively proven. Regardless, dogs’ higher neuron count is often viewed as a gauge of their superior intelligence.
How dog and cat intelligence differ
So, in what ways are dogs and cats each smart?