Dogs are smarter than cats

Neurons are the "little grey cells" that are associated with things like planning, thinking and complex behavior.

Despite what every cat-loving friend has been telling you for years, a new study from Vanderbilt University suggests that dogs are the smarter house pet.

They also looked at the brains of one or two specimens from each of eight carnivoran species: ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion and brown bear.

Carnivores and their brains.

The study found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats only have 250 million.

In order to reach the findings, the researchers - Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and her team - evaluated the neuronal density and brain sizes of various carnivorans, a class of mammals that includes many predators - along with some omnivores and and a few herbivores.

The study's findings also challenge the prevailing view that domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild cousins.

Illustration showing the brains of six carnivores. For example, she added, humans have about twice as many cortical neurons as gorillas. That's based on the idea that hunting prey is more demanding than the herbivore's lifestyle.

However, that proved not to be the case.

As it turns out the size of the brain is not what matters the most. "The large numbers of neurons in the small raccoon brains jives very well with how crafty/smart/resourceful these creatures are believed to be".

"Meat eating is largely considered a problem-solver in terms of energy", said Herculano-Houzel "but, in retrospect, it is clear that carnivory must impose a delicate balance between how much brain and body a species can afford".

An global team of scientists studied a variety of furry critters and discovered dogs have more neurons in an important part of the brain than cats. But it does mean that dogs were born with the potential for greater intellectual capability.

Herculano-Houzel is an admitted dog person.

  • Santos West