Are Dogs Smarter Than Cats? Science Now Has The Verdict

Published December 4, 2017
Updated March 16, 2021

The study focused not only on the two beloved pets but on carnivorous mammals as a whole.

The age-old argument between dog people and cat people may finally be at an end.

A new study, done at Vanderbilt University, claims that dogs are actually the smarter of the two animals.

The study, titled “Dogs have the most neurons, though not the largest brain: Trade-off between body mass and number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of large carnivoran species,” focused on the differences between the number of cortical neurons in the brains of carnivores.

Though it seems like a mouthful, the concept is a relatively simple one. Every mammal’s brain contains a cerebral cortex. That cerebral cortex contains cortical neurons. The cortical neurons are associated with thinking, planning, and complex behavior, all of which are considered hallmarks of intelligence.

Thus, the level of intelligence in these mammals depends on the number of cortical neurons present in the cerebral cortex. See? Science can be simple.

The study, which confirmed that dogs have significantly more cortical neurons than cats, focused not only on the two beloved pets but on carnivorous mammals as a whole.

“In this study, we were interested in comparing different species of carnivorans to see how the numbers of neurons in their brains relate to the size of their brains, including a few favorite species including cats and dogs, lions and brown bears,” said Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who created the method for measuring the number of cortical neurons.

According to Herculano-Houzel and her colleague’s findings, dogs have around 530 million cortical neurons. Comparatively, cats have only 250 million (just for reference, humans have around 16 billion.)

“Our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can,” Herculano-Houzel said.

Along with findings of the intelligence of cats and dogs, the study also challenged a few existing notions about carnivore’s intelligence.

Previously, it was assumed that carnivores would be smarter than herbivores, as it takes more cognitive planning to hunt than it does to flee. However, the study revealed that the number of cortical neurons in small and medium-sized carnivores was pretty much equal to that of herbivores. That suggests that evading predators takes just as much planning as being a predator does.

Though this may not truly sway those who are resolute cat people, one thing is for sure — dog people now have a little more science behind their arguments.

After learning if dogs are smarter than cats, read about the Texas woman who hoarded 111 dogs and cats in her home. Then, read about the seven most terrifying experiments ever conducted.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.