Are Cats Actually Smarter Than Dogs? Here's What Science Has to Say

Whether you think you know or not, the answer just might surprise you.

cat and dog laying on couch together
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It's no secret that pet owners tend to have very strong opinions on which animal is not only smarter, but friendlier, cuter, and overall just "better"—most of which are not rooted in fact, but strictly based on how they feel about their own feline or canine companion. However, science does have something to say about the dogs vs. cats debate—and depending on where you stand, you might not like it.

From a purely anatomical perspective, dogs are brainier than cats, according to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy. When researchers at Vanderbilt University studied the brains of various carnivores, they found that although cats have larger brains than dogs, there appears to be a higher level of functioning going on inside canine brains. What does that mean? Well, the study found that dogs have around 530 million cortical neurons, which are located in the cerebral cortex and are responsible for things like thinking, planning, and other "intelligent" behaviors. Cats on the other hand have an average of just 250 million.

"Our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats," Suzana Herculano-Houzel, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release. "At the least, we now have some biology that people can factor into their discussion about who's smarter, cats or dogs."

These findings, however, weren't the first to deem dogs' brains superior to those of cats. In another 2010 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Oxford University charted the brain growth of more than 500 species of mammals. Their conclusion was that there is a link between a species' sociality and brain size in relation to their body size. Dogs are much more social creatures than cats, and therefore, their brains have grown much more over time than our furry feline friends' brains have.

This isn't an open-and-shut case, though. In an interview with PBS, Brian Hare, founder and director of Duke University's Canine Cognition Center, warned that comparing the intelligence of dogs and cats 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."

Ultimately, dogs and cats are intelligent in different ways. While dogs are easier to train and teach, cats are naturally more independent and intuitive. Intelligence is a spectrum, and both animals are brilliant in their own way. And for more fun facts about your pets, There's Scientific Proof Cats Adopt Owners' Personalities.

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