Dogs vs Cats: which species is smarter?

In the everlasting battle between dogs versus cats, scientist believe they have determined which is the smarter species.

On one hand, dogs can be trained to learn and respond to our commands, but cats are extremely cunning and full of curiosity.

Unfortunately for cat lovers, this round goes to the dogs.

Image by zep2013, via Flickr

A joint study between six universities from US, Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa has found that dogs have twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex compared to cats. Specifically, dogs had around 530 million neurons, whereas cats only had 250 million neurons, which suggests that dogs are more intelligent.

For comparison, we humans have around 16 billion neurons in our cerebral cortex. This is the highest number by far. Our closest relatives, orangutans and gorillas only have around 8-9 billion neurons, so we can safely claim the smartest species title.


Why use neurons in the cerebral cortex?

Neurons are the fundamental information processing units in our brains. It gathers all the information both internally and externally to the body for the cerebral cortex to process. Unlike other areas of the brain which only process specific type information, the cerebral cortex has to process all of them and coordinate our decision-making, problem-solving and other complex functions.

Although the number of neurons we have is only one way to determine the level of intelligence, one of the study’s neurologist, Suzana Herculano-Houzel from the University of Vanderbilt, believes it is the most effective to date.

It is a common misconception among scientists that brain size is the main factor that determines intelligence, and that bigger equals smarter. In this case, bigger does not mean better.

The research found that larger animals with larger brains such as lions and bears had fewer neurons than smaller ones such as cats and dogs. Furthermore, animals that had similar brain size could have significantly different number of neurons. This suggests that brain size is not the main factor in determining intelligence.


Labels are not good.

Although dog lovers would be delighted about these results, we should be cautious when comparing species based on intelligence. This is because each species has evolved in a specific way which enables them to solve problems that are most critical to their survival and reproduction.

For example, if we consider hunting ability, cats will definitely outsmart us and dogs. But if it was a maths problem, we will win over dogs and cats any day.

So regardless of how many neurons your dog or cat have, or how smart science says your pet may be, please love them all.


Other resources.

If you are interested in learning more about the comparison between cat and dog, some useful links are:



2 Responses to “Dogs vs Cats: which species is smarter?”

  1. tinad says:

    Glad to see someone still rooting for cats 🙂

  2. Tate says: