It has been one of the many long debates and arguments that divide the world into dog lovers and cat lovers: Are cats smarter than dogs? If you’ve watched the Nickelodeon cartoon show Catdog or any other animal cartoon show for that matter, you would probably notice the stereotype of cats as being smarter than dogs. According to science, however, dogs hold the upper ground.
It’s all in the brains… sort of
Some people would say that since dogs are generally bigger than cats, their brain size would mean that the canines are smarter. However, that isn’t actually the case. Scientists have proven that brain size does not universally equate to intelligence. In fact, there are hundreds of creatures on the planet that have way bigger brains than us humans (the biggest brain belongs to the sperm whale, at an astonishing weight of 18 pounds!)
The real answer to an animal’s intelligence lies in the number of neurons there are inside the brain. Neurons (also called nerve cells) are the basic building blocks of the brain. They are the ones responsible for processing and transmitting information from the brain to the nerves, muscles and vice versa.
Using a technique developed by neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, the number of neurons is tallied from the cerebral cortex.
Are cats smarter than dogs yes or no?
The results show that cats possess about 250 million neurons in the cortex, while dogs have about twice as that at 500 million neurons. Based on this, we can say that dogs are smarter than cats. Be aware that how smart a cat or dog is, also depends on the breeds.
To put the numbers into perspective, a human’s cortex possesses about 16 billion neurons.
This explains why when it comes to learning commands or doing common tasks, dogs seem to be more capable than cats. Herculano-Houzel said it’s even possible that small dogs, like chihuahuas or terriers, have more neurons than cats. Thus, in the realm of science, it’s a technical win for the dogs.
How smart are cats, then?
So it’s been decided by science that dogs are smarter than cats, but that doesn’t make cats any less intelligent than they actually are. In fact, there are other means of showing how smart they can be:
- They know where things are. Cats have an ability called “object permanence,” which allows them to know if an object is there even when it goes out of sight, such as when a toy they’ve played with goes under the couch. They also seem to be able to understand where an item has been moved, even if they aren’t aware of the action itself. These clever felines will still know where the snacks and toys are, no matter how well you hide them.
- They have excellent memory. Cats excel at what is called procedural memory. Similar to humans, cats learn by observation and action. They can learn how to ring bells, open doors, and even turn on light switches. Studies suggest that these memories can last for 10 years or even more! They associate memories of events or places with various emotions they experienced at a certain point in time; they will remember the fear and trauma when you bring them to the vet, and they will remember the joyful experience of playing with you and you feeding them food (especially the latter).
Common questions on cats vs dogs
Are cats more expensive than dogs?
It’s a common misconception that having a cat requires more luxurious care than dogs do, and it’s a common trait in pop culture. However, the ASPCA conducted a study on the average cost of owning a dog or cat, and surprisingly dogs are more expensive to care for. The group examined the capital costs of owning a cat or dog and tallied recurring costs, including medical bills, food, litter for cats, licenses, toys/treats and insurance. The results show that medium and large dogs are at an average of $560 in capital costs plus $800-$1000 in recurring costs per year, while small dogs and cats are at an average of $350-$400 in capital costs plus $800 in recurring costs per year. Although dogs (especially the big ones) cost more to keep than cats, “you can’t put a price on love.”
Are cats more dangerous than dogs?
Dogs can be more ferocious when angry, but when it comes to animal bites, you’re more likely to suffer from a dangerous infection from cats. It’s not as though cats harbor more dangerous bacteria than dogs, however. It’s simply that feline fangs are much sharper; their small, sharp teeth can quickly penetrate the skin and deep into the person’s muscles and tissue, causing rapid infection. So don’t take a cat bite lightly just because it’s a small wound.
Are cats more independent than dogs?
As many cat owners know, cats can pretty much handle being left alone. Dogs are pack-dependent in nature and they rely on attention and care from one another to survive, which is why dogs rely on their owner’s (their ‘pack leader’s’) attention. Cats, on the other hand, are solitary hunters; they often don’t rely on their owners, except for their basic needs of food and a clean litter box. They are content for being alone for hours at a time, making them excellent pets for people working long shifts.
What animal is smarter than a dog?
There are a couple of animals that we for sure can say are smarter than a dog. Chimpanzees, dolphins, American badgers, giant pandas, but you can also argue that some bears and sea otters are at least as clever because they are good at using tools.
Animals like pigeons, pigs and chimpanzeez are capable of remembering a lot more details than dogs do, and thereby are smarter than dogs.
The bottom line
The take-away from this is that intelligence is a complicated thing; comparing the intelligence between a cat and a dog is like comparing an apple with an orange. Although dogs are more intelligent when it comes to the neurons in their brains, cats can still be deemed as intelligent through their unique traits and behaviors. At the end of the day, choosing whether to own a cat or a dog does not necessarily rely on their respective levels of intelligence, but to the owner’s commitment to understanding and caring for them.