Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Scientists Finally Have the Answer (2022)

As the two most popular pets in the world, it’s impossible not to compare cats and dogs. We talk about which species is the better companion and which is the best cuddler, and there’s also the age-old debate of which animal is smarter.

While dog people will always refer to canine trainability, we can’t discount a cat’s independence and problem-solving.

Pet owners could debate the merits of each species all day, but thankfully, scientists have also entered the debate. Studies focused on the intelligence of cats versus dogs aren’t as widespread as we’d like, but they do give us some direction toward finally answering the question: are cats smarter than dogs?

Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Scientists Finally Have the Answer (1)

While human intelligence can be measured by an IQ test, there is no black-and-white way to evaluate an animal’s overall intelligence.

Cat Brain vs Dog Brain

The ultimate answer to which domestic species is smarter isn’t as simple as it sounds. While human intelligence can be measured by an IQ test, there is no black-and-white way to evaluate an animal’s overall intelligence. At the same time, we can compare human intelligence to that of other animals, but animal-to-animal comparisons are more tricky.

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Brian Hare of Duke University explains it well by saying,“Asking which species is smarter is like asking if a hammer is a better tool than a screwdriver. Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course, it depends on the problem we are trying to solve.”

Both cats and dogs evolved differently based on what they needed to do to adapt and survive. With different physical capabilities and needs, each species endured specific trials and overcame those challenges with specific solutions. The cats and dogs of today are products of that problem-solving.

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We can’t say one species is inherently smarter than the other without considering all aspects of intelligence and putting everything on an even playing field. So far, scientists haven’t found a perfect way to do that. Because intelligence is judged from a human perspective, it’s impossible to give cats and dogs a fair test.

With that said, there are studies that point to specific kinds of intelligence while giving a general idea of which animal comes out on top in terms of cognitive abilities.

Counting Neurons as a Measure of Intelligence

One way scientists have attempted to subjectively gauge animal intelligence is by comparing the number of neurons located in the cerebral cortex of the brain. This section of the brain is known to be responsible for many of the higher cognitive processes including memory, thoughts, and decision making. Researchers believe that by estimating the total number of neurons, they can rank species based on cognitive abilities. Neurologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained, “Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is.”

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To count neurons, Herculano-Houzel performed an experiment by counting the number of suspended neuron cells within the liquified brain matter of different species. The animals used in the experiment all died from natural causes, and their bodies were donated to science. Herculano-Houzel looked at the brain matter of several species. Her experiment included one cat, one Golden Retriever, and one small mixed-breed dog.

The results found that out of the domestic pets, the Golden Retriever had the most neurons with 623 million. The small breed dog was next, and the cat’s brain came in third with 250 million neurons.

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These numbers suggest dogs have better cognitive skills, but there are other factors to consider. First, it is unclear how brain size affects intelligence.

Past studies suggest that the bigger the brain, the more neurons are present, and therefore, the smarter the animal. This concept proved to be true in a 2014 study that looked at an animal’s ability for self control. Cats weren’t included in that experiment, but the conclusions suggest that brain size is relative to self-control and therefore cognitive function.

Herculano-Houzel’s experiment, however, shows large animals with larger brains, like the brown bear, have fewer neurons than smaller animals. Researchers say more studies are needed to determine exactly how or if brain size factors into intelligence.

Another issue to consider is that the experiment only counts neurons, it doesn’t prove that all the neurons are being used. A Golden Retriever, for example, has about 623 neurons at their disposal, but it doesn’t tell us whether or not they’re reaching their full potential.

Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Scientists Finally Have the Answer (3)

While the number of neurons for each species potentially gives dogs the advantage, other studies suggest cats have the upper hand.

Problem Solving and Finding Food

While the number of neurons for each species potentially gives dogs the advantage, other studies suggest cats have the upper hand. A 2006 study out of Hungary, for example, found that cats are more likely to succeed at difficult food puzzles.

Dogs and cats had to manipulate the puzzles using their paws and noses in order to release food. Both species were capable of success, but the study found that dogs were more likely to give up and expect human assistance. Cats, on the other hand, preferred to work through the problem themselves.

This experiment also relates to cats and dogs in the wild. Finding food is arguably the most essential skill for an animal to have. Without it, dogs and cats would have died out before they had the chance to become domesticated. In terms of hunting-related intelligence, cats are the clear winners.

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They are skilled predators and are perfectly capable of finding their own food (when they’re forced to). Dogs, on the other hand, can be hunters, but they don’t possess the same stealth, flexibility, and natural instinct as cats.

This obviously varies depending on the dog’s breed, but in general, cats are better at hunting than the average dog. So if you’re judging animal intelligence by which species would survive on its own, cats would win.

Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Scientists Finally Have the Answer (4)

Many domestic cats are just as social as dogs, and they rely on human interactions for both mental and physical health.

The Social Factor

Cats could find their own dinner with no human help, but some scientists suggest sociability is an indicator of intelligence. Social intelligence includes how a domestic animal adapts to life with humans. Dogs are generally considered to be more social, but you can’t discount cats in this category.

Many domestic cats are just as social as dogs, and they rely on human interactions for both mental and physical health. It’s even unfair to say that dogs are easier to train than cats. With the right strategy, cats are capable of learning behaviors and tricks.

In the grand scheme of domesticity, dogs have lived alongside humans for a lot longer than cats. Should those centuries be considered when determining social intelligence? Regardless, there’s also a difference in how pet owners treat cats versus dogs.

While puppies attend obedience school and go to the park for playdates, most people don’t provide their cats with those same social opportunities.

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Overall, there are several categories to consider when gauging the intelligence of cats versus dogs. While one species excels in one area, they falter in the next. We can’t say for certain that cats are smarter than dogs. We can say, however, that cats have an unmatched intelligence that is impressive in its own way.

View Sources

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnana.2017.00118/full

https://www.newsweek.com/are-cats-smarter-dogs-scientists-brain-neurones-behavior

https://www.livescience.com/cats-dogs-intelligence

https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/are-dogs-smarter-than-cats/

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1323533111

FAQs

Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs? Scientists Finally Have the Answer? ›

The results found that out of the domestic pets, the Golden Retriever had the most neurons with 623 million. The small breed dog was next, and the cat's brain came in third with 250 million neurons. These numbers suggest dogs have better cognitive skills, but there are other factors to consider.

Are cats scientifically smarter than dogs? ›

As you can imagine, there have been many studies to test the intelligence of dogs and to a lesser extent, cats. The neuron-counting study provides scientific proof that dogs are technically smarter than cats.

Is it scientifically proven that cats are better than dogs? ›

Cats have actually caused the extinction of over 40 species of dogs in North America, making them the most successful killer of the two. A recent study has discovered over 2,000 fossils, which reveal how members of the cat family are much better survivors than dogs.

Are dogs smarter than cats Yes and science proves it? ›

Dog people have long known that canines are smarter than felines. The fact that there are no service cats or drug-sniffing cats making that abundantly clear. And a new study proves it beyond a biological doubt, giving dog owners the neuroscientific evidence they need to end the argument.

What is the IQ of a cat? ›

The domestic cat is attributed a value of between 1–1.71; relative to human value, that is 7.44–7.8. The largest brains in the family Felidae are those of the tigers in Java and Bali.

What is the IQ of a dog? ›

What's The Average Dog's IQ? The average dog's IQ is about 100. Based on the results done to test a dog's IQ, it turned out that dogs, even the average ones, have the IQ same as a 2-years old human.

Are cats evil? ›

If you read this column regularly, you probably already know the answer to that question is no. Cats are definitely not evil, mean, or vindictive by nature. And yet this seems to be a recurring theme.

Why cats are actually better than dogs? ›

Cats Don't Take up Much Space

Between their size, their love for stretching out into everyone's personal space, the room they need to play and exercise, and their stuff (such as a dog bed or dog toys), dogs need a solid amount of room to live a happy, healthy life. Cats, however, don't need a lot of space to thrive.

Do cats view us as cats? ›

Unlike dogs, our feline friends treat us like other cats, author says. Since cats first got their adorable claws into us about 9,500 years ago, humans have had a love affair with felines. Today more than 80 million cats reside in U.S. homes, with an estimated three cats for every dog on the planet.

Can a cat be trained like a dog? ›

Yes, you can train a cat like a dog, as long as you make some adjustments, and add an extra dose of patience. We love helping people train their cats—and we even offer kitten and cat training around the globe thanks to remote training sessions!

Are dogs dumb? ›

It's not that dogs are dumb, it's just that they aren't as exceptional as we may have thought. After reviewing 300 studies on dog intelligence and doing his own study, Stephen Lea, an emeritus professor of psychology at Exeter University, found there's no scientific evidence to support dogs as super intelligent.

Are dogs becoming smarter? ›

Over the past decade, research into canine behavior and intelligence has been blossoming, and a range of experiments have suggested that dogs are capable of surprisingly complex feats of social intelligence and emotional sensitivity.

Do cats have an alpha human? ›

Cats are incapable of considering a human to be an alpha. They have no concept of alpha and beta dynamics, even among themselves. If you feel like your cat doesn't respect you but respects another member of the house more, it's not because it thinks you are weak. It just doesn't feel attached to the other person.

What animal has the highest IQ? ›

CHIMPANZEES. RECKONED to be the most-intelligent animals on the planet, chimps can manipulate the environment and their surroundings to help themselves and their community. They can work out how to use things as tools to get things done faster, and they have outsmarted people many a time.

Do cats have memory? ›

Cats possess excellent long-term memories. They can recall their animal companions and the people who feed them as well as those who irritate them. Memory is what allows a cat to leap into the arms of a family member returning after a semester away at college.

What is the stupidest dog breed? ›

Afghan Hound

The Afghan Hound is the “dumbest” dog. Photography by Olga_i / Shutterstock. The Afghan Hound tops the dumbest dog breeds list according to The Intelligence of Dogs, but Afghan lovers surely disagree. Afghans are sighthounds, which means they were bred to hunt using their extraordinary speed and eyesight.

What is the IQ of a baby? ›

Babies who came into the world before the coronavirus had a cognitive score hovering around 100, according to this study. But the test scores of babies born during the pandemic fell sharply, to around 78. That's 22 points lower than what's considered normal.

What is the IQ of a rat? ›

Rat Fact - The average IQ of a rat is 105. Smarter than man-things!

What animals are more intelligent than dogs? ›

Pigs are considered by animal experts to be more trainable than dogs or cats and are very smart animals. Pigs just barely edged out dogs for our list of the 10 smartest animals. While dogs have intelligence comparable to a toddler, pigs operate at a much higher IQ level.

Can a cat be trained like a dog? ›

Yes, you can train a cat like a dog, as long as you make some adjustments, and add an extra dose of patience. We love helping people train their cats—and we even offer kitten and cat training around the globe thanks to remote training sessions!

Can cat knock over TV? ›

Fliesen said: Cat shouldn't be able to knock over a 55" TV. It's just an oled and way thinner than when I was a kid and I don't want to come home with my TV on the ground lol.

Are cats self aware? ›

They may be aware of their own voice or other characteristics, but they are not self-aware and do not recognize themselves in a mirror.

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