Most people have, at some point in their lives, debated over the comparative intelligence of canines and felines. If you’re particularly partial to one or the other, you likely have your opinion coming to the forefront of your thoughts. While many of us have personal biases resulting from preferences and experience, the scientific verdict is in, and it doesn’t look good for cat-lovers. According to the findings of a team of international researchers, dogs are quantifiably smarter than cats.
Dogs possess on average twice the amount of neurons – the brain cells responsible for information-processing – than cats. Neurons – electrically-excitable cells – process, receive, and transmit information through chemical and electrical signals. Scientists concluded dogs’ higher neuron count results in significant advantages in information processing abilities, and considering the wide gap in neuron count averages, the two species have an ensuing and marked gap in intelligence.
The study, conducted by researchers from six universities in the US, Brazil, Denmark and South Africa, has been accepted for publication in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of psychology and biological sciences, led and conducted the research in her lab at Vanderbilt University.
While researchers comparing animal species’ intelligence had been using the more limited method of comparing brain size, “in 2005, my lab developed a very simple, fast and inexpensive method to count cells in brains and brain parts,” Herculano-Houzel said. The method requires flattened pieces of brain tissue to be homogenized in a Pyrex Tenbroeck tissue grinder and kept in solution to help to break down cell walls and release the cell nuclei.
By turning brain matter into a soup-like substance, researchers were able to count the freed-up cell nuclei under a microscope. Examining both species’ cerebral cortex – the information-processing center, for laymen – found cats’ brains to contain around 250 million neurons, while an average 15-pound mixed-breed dog’s brain contains 429 million neurons.
“It is fair to say, then, that dogs have about twice as many neurons as cats in their cerebral cortex,” Herculano-Houzel said. “And this implies that dogs have more cognitive capabilities than cats.”
Analysis of a 64-pound golden retriever yielded an even higher count of 627 million neurons, allowing for the inference that certain larger breeds of dogs may have even more pronounced processing advantages than the average two-fold difference between similarly-sized animals.
The cognitive gap may seem clear to most after receiving this information, but don’t expect cat-lovers to take this news lying down! The love for one species over the other is less rooted in science and logic, and more in personal preference, so perhaps this study does little for the general debate over the superior domestic companion. While the results of this study may be a tough break cat-lovers, at least dog-lovers now have a scientifically-proven trump-card to pull out next time a rendition of this heated debate gets underway.
Either way, if your grandma is a cat-fanatic, you may want to break the news gently to her and expect her to come back with many examples to the contrary.