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Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Here’s What Science Says

cat and dog

What’s smarter: cats or dogs? This is not an easy question to answer, particularly for dog and cat people. It’s almost impossible not to be biased!

However, to give you a quick answer to this question, cats are smarter than dogs in some areas. But dogs are ahead of cats due to the number of brain cells they have and the length of time that they have been domesticated.

Basically, there isn’t a simple answer to the question, so keep reading to learn more. We go into the science of it all, what makes cats come out on top, and where dogs have the advantage over cats.

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Brain Smarts

You might be surprised to learn that a scientist actually counted the number of neurons in cats’ and dogs’ brains. Suzana Herculano-Houzel is a Brazilian neuroscientist, and she found that the dog’s brain has about 530 million neurons and that the cat’s brain has around 250 million.

Herculano-Houzel’s study does indicate that scientifically speaking, dogs can be considered smarter than cats. But is this accurate?

Different Brains Means Different Smarts

According to an article in Psychology Today, cats have much better long-term memory than dogs. This is particularly true when they learn through their actions instead of through observation. But when it comes to social tasks, dogs come out on top of cats.

Researcher and educator of cat behavior, human and cat interaction, and cat social cognition Kristyn Vitale has said that it’s pointless to compare the intelligence between different animal species. Each species is intelligent in its own unique way.

For example, dogs can be trained as search-and-rescue or guide dogs, whereas cats are much more accomplished hunters than dogs. It can be assumed that cats are actually smart enough to be trained the same way, but the question is, would they want to? This quote encapsulates the cat mindset: “Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow” (Jeff Valdez).

Beyond using training as a measure for intelligence, you can also look at self-sufficiency. Cats are more than capable of fending for themselves. They can locate and hunt down their own food and groom themselves. Dogs are highly dependent on people for these things. The cautious yet curiosity-seeking behavior of cats is definitely confirmation of their smarts.

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The Independent and Stubborn Cat

American Polydactyl cat walking outside
Image Credit: Jenny Margarette, Shutterstock

If you’ve ever lived with a cat, you know how independent and uncooperative they can be. In fact, there are few studies on the intelligence of cats because of how challenging it is to do. Conversely, there’s a multitude of studies done on dogs because they tend to be more cooperative.

According to Science Magazine, by 2004, there were many papers and studies carried out on canine intelligence but none on cats. Since then, there have been a few studies on cats, but researchers have discovered they are not the most cooperative subjects and tend to drop out.

2013 study found that cats can recognize their owner’s voice but often choose not to respond to it (you can read more about it at Smithsonian Magazine). Most cat owners are probably not surprised to hear this.

The thought is that since cats were never trained the way that dogs have been, they have a much higher degree of independence. They also haven’t been domesticated for as long as dogs, which gives dogs the advantage.

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How About Those Dogs?

jack russel terrier in the grass
Image Credit: Reddogs, Shutterstock

Dr. Stanley Coren is a psychologist and canine researcher, and his studies have shown that dogs have the intelligence of a 2- to a 2.5-year-old child. They can understand more than 150 words and can be sneaky with people and other dogs just to get treats.

The smartest breed of them all is the Border Collie, which can understand up to 250 words! Dogs are also capable of interpreting human emotions.

Coren places dog intelligence into three categories: instinctive, adaptive, and obedience.

  • Instinctive: This comes from instincts, of course, but it is essentially what the dog was bred to do.
  • Adaptive: This is how well the dog can adapt or learn from their environment and experience to solve problems.
  • Obedience: This is how the dog works and obeys. It can be thought of as similar to “school learning.”

Dogs additionally can count up to four or five and actually have the ability to understand basic math. For example, the smartest dogs can figure out the error of 1 + 1 = 1 or even 1 + 1 = 3.

Additionally, dogs can learn through observation. This includes locating items of value (toys or treats), the best routes in their immediate surroundings (such as to a favorite napping spot), operating different mechanisms (latches and opening doors), and the meaning of words and symbolic gestures (pointing or other actions).

There’s no question that dogs are intelligent, but the jury is still out on how it compares to cats.

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Those Studies

pug dog and cat sitting together on the floor
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

As you can imagine, there have been many studies to test the intelligence of dogs and to a lesser extent, cats. The neuron-counting study provides scientific proof that dogs are technically smarter than cats.

In 1876, The Belgian Society to the Elevation of the Domestic Cat experimented with cats delivering the mail. While the cats were successful and completed the mail run, it took many of them at least 24 hours, and not surprisingly, many of them just didn’t feel like doing it.

So, it certainly can be argued that cats are smart. They’re smart enough to decide for themselves whether a job is worth their time or not.

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Conclusion

Comparing dogs and cats is like comparing apples and oranges. Dogs are smart for some things,  and cats are smart for others. In the long run, all species are smart in some way or other in order to help with their survival.

In fact, fish are better at counting than cats  It stems from the importance of swimming in a school and the protection that it affords — it’s literal safety in numbers.

So, instead of wondering if your neighbor’s dog is smarter than your cats, just enjoy spending time with your pets. While there needs to be more research done on cats, we don’t really need those studies to tell us how amazing our kitties are!


Featured Image Credit: giselaatje, Pixabay

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