Sign Up for Cat Talk
Get the latest health and behavior news and
advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Feature March 2018 Issue

Are Dogs Smarter Than Cats?

Based on new research, experts are suggesting that the answer points to ... "yes."

dog and cat

Photodisc/Getty Images

Both species have their fans clubs, but there is no debating that dogs possess roughly 530 million cortical neurons, whereas cats have roughly 250 million.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, dogs possess more brain power than cats. This was determined by researchers, who counted the number of neurons in the cerebral cortexes of the brains of a number of animals, including cats and dogs.

These cells are associated with thinking, planning and complex behavior: all hallmarks of intelligence. The study found that dogs possess significantly more of them than cats.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, PhD — associate professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University — developed the method for measuring the number of neurons in the brains of animals.

“I believe the absolute number of neurons an animal has —especially in the cerebral cortex — determines the richness of their internal mental state, and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” said Dr. Herculano-Houzel. “In this study, we were interested in comparing difference species of carnivores to see how the number 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.”

The study found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, while cats possess about 250 million. (In comparison, the human brain has 16 billion cortical neurons.) “Neurons are the basic information processing units,” said Dr. Herculano-Houzel. “The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is.”

According to Dr. Herculano-Houzel, studying the brains of different species teaches an important lesson: “Diversity is enormous. Not every species is made the same way. Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together —and we’re trying to figure out what difference that makes.” — Catnip staff

Comments (14)

If the number of neurons in the cerebral cortexes of the brains of animals indicates intelligence, then how do you explain the apparent stupidity of Trump supporters compared to the average human?

Posted by: Jesse's Dad | August 27, 2019 11:47 AM    Report this comment

One of my cats has figured out how to remove a paper clip from a pile of papers. Tell me that isn't smart.

Posted by: MayaVT | August 26, 2019 4:57 PM    Report this comment

What was the ratio consideration for the testing that was done? It says that they were interested in comparing difference (sic) species of carnivores"... So this would mean that they took a dog and counted its cells, and they took a cat and counted its cells? They didn't take x amount of cerebral cortex from a dog and cat equally to compare? It really sounds like they just compared brain vs brain, which could mean they measured a Newfoundland's brain against a manx's brain. A VERY unfair difference in size. It also not only says "species of carnivores", it was the doctor himself who said it. While cats are obligate carnivores, dogs are not. Dogs are omnivores! This could have affected the test, although I personally would not be sure how. Of course it's important to remember that up to 70% of scientific studies cannot be reproduced in the first place, but even then this "research" and these "experts" really leave me unimpressed.

Cats are still the best ;)

Posted by: firecat | August 26, 2019 4:47 PM    Report this comment

I LOVE AND RESPECT ALL ANIMALS, WILD AND DOMESTIC!! MY FRIEND HAS TORTOISE THAT HAS EMOTIONS, AS SHE TAUGHT IT TO "SNUGGLE" UP BY HER CHIN, AND SHE THEN GIVES IT KISSES!!!

AND AS FAR AS INTELLIGENCE IS CONCERNED, I HAVE HAD MANY DOGS AND CATS IN MY 76 YEARS, AND FIND THEM BOTH EQUALLY AS SMART. MUCH OF THIS INTELLIGENCE IS DETERMINED BY TALKING TO THEM, AND HAVING MUCH PATIENCE. ALSO SHOWING THEM WHAT YOU WANT WILL ALSO HELP!!!

Posted by: I LOVE CATS | August 26, 2019 4:41 PM    Report this comment

My last kitty who died when he was 13 was the smartest. As smart as any dog. He somehow knew when I was almost home as those at home would see him go to the door and wait for me. He would greet me with talking and rubbing and jumping. He would sit and watch me and in this way he learned to open all the doors in the house by putting his paws on either side of the nob to turn it. He watched me in bed and during the day would sleep warm under the covers with his head on the pillow, just like mom. When I was sick or sad he would not leave my side. He would purr loudly, give me lots of licks, and knead on me talking softly to make me feel better. His favorite games were playing fetch and chasing me all over the house. When he did not like someone he would hiss telling me this was not someone to be trusted. When he heard someone approaching the front door, even before they had knocked, he would growl to warn me. So very smart and empathetic and very much a cat.

Posted by: paulaand winter | August 26, 2019 1:28 PM    Report this comment

I had a dog ... and I have always had cats! To me that particular dog used to get on the table, where he saw the cats being fed... and he used the litter box also. He was a chow mix and he did these things when he was a puppy.... needless to say I did not encourage same!! I do not know who is smarter, but who was more adaptable to his surroundings?

Posted by: zimmy | August 26, 2019 10:28 AM    Report this comment

And yet dogs work for us while we work for cats. Something wrong with her hypothesis

Posted by: Batsmom | August 26, 2019 9:01 AM    Report this comment

Fake news!

Chester and Elvis
(Live with idiot dogs)

Posted by: Katroz | August 26, 2019 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Racist behavior, racist behavior.

Signed Loomis the Cat

Posted by: Bede | March 7, 2018 7:31 PM    Report this comment

Now you've done it. My cats are in an uproar at even the suggestion that dogs are smarter than cats!

Posted by: Bede | March 7, 2018 7:29 PM    Report this comment

Just one example of dogs not being as smart as cats: dogs will eat just about anything that gets near their mouths - including cat feces! Cats, on the other hand, are much more cautious about what they put in their mouths, and they never eat the feces of other animals.

Posted by: Jesse's Dad | March 6, 2018 1:54 AM    Report this comment

Dogs drool..... cats rule!

Posted by: nyppsi | March 5, 2018 2:19 PM    Report this comment

I have been around dogs and cats my entire life (60 years), I my experience is that many cats have higher cognitive abilities and actions than most dogs. Although my sample size is small, my experience with both leads me to believe that cats more readily react to stimuli and events than do most dogs. I would even venture to say that there is more to intelligence than just the total number of cortical neurons in a brain. Therefore, I believe there is some error to Dr. Herculano-Houzel's hypothesis.

Posted by: Lions20 | March 5, 2018 11:54 AM    Report this comment

I think this scientist is a dog lover. I like dogs but I think cats are more independent and that makes them smarter. They can use their own litter boxes and don't need to be walked. JMHO. ;-)

Posted by: Rhiannon122 | March 5, 2018 11:11 AM    Report this comment

New to Tufts Catnip? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In