They might chew your shoes, occasionally pee on the rug, or snarf down your entire dinner the minute you turn your head, but it turns out your family dog is measurably smarter than your cat.
Researchers at Vanderbilt decided to put the age old debate to the test objectively, studying the number of cortical neurons in the brains of a number of animals. The results? Canines had a significantly higher number than felines.
Dogs, it turns out, have about 530 million cortical neurons. Cats have less than half that, coming in with 250 million. (We humans have about 16 billion.)
“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 Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt, who oversaw the study with a collection of international researchers.
The paper, which will be published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy (and almost certainly maligned on reddit, the Internet’s haven for cat lovers), notes that the physical size of the brain doesn’t necessarily relate to overall intelligence. For example, researchers found that the brain of a brown bear, while 10 times as large as a cat’s, has roughly the same number of neurons. (Raccoons, also, are on par with cats when it comes to smarts.)
Despite the findings, don’t expect this argument to go away anytime soon. Herculano-Houzel herself admits that, while the study was objective, she herself does have a bit of a bias.
“I’m 100 percent a dog person,” she says, “but, with that disclaimer, 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.”