Cats versus dogs: new evidence on which species is ‘smarter’

Researchers found dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, while cats have about 250 million. 

The age-old argument of whether cats or dogs are more intelligent has taken a new twist after scientists have, for the first time, counted the number of cortical neurons in the brains of each species.

The number of neurons in the cerebral cortex are associated with thinking, planning and complex behaviour – all considered hallmarks of intelligence.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, US, found dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, while cats have about 250 million. For comparison, the human brain has 16 billion.

Method

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at the university, developed the method for accurately measuring the number of neurons in brains.

She told ScienceDaily: “I’m 100% a dog person, but with that disclaimer, our findings mean, to me, dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.

“At the least, we now have some biology people can factor into their discussions about which is smarter – cats or dogs.”

Results of the study are described in a paper accepted for publication in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.