Q. I recently read the Short Takes in Catnip (March 2018 issue) about dogs being smarter than cats. What can be done to increase the neuron count in cats, if anything?
A. Dear Lee: That’s an interesting question. For a long time, it was thought that neuron numbers in the brain cannot increase, although they can and do decrease through life. But recent studies have shown that neuron numbers actually can increase (the process is termed neurogenesis). There is evidence that exercise, stress reduction and brain exercises all can stimulate neurogenesis. It is unknown whether these measures can benefit neuron numbers in cats, but it seems logical that they could.
So, many of the steps we commonly recommend in Catnip to improve the quality of life for cats — such as encouraging cats to stay physically active and providing them with environmental enrichment — are based in good science.
John Berg, DVM, DACVS
Professor of Surgery
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University