Cat brains are smaller than dog brains – discuss!
Princess is intelligent - Photo by Hélène Villeneuve (Flickr)
Cat brains are smaller than dog brains because cats are solitary animals and dogs are social animals. The social interaction between dogs over millions of years created this difference.
It is said that cats have less sophisticated brains than dogs. The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Oxford. They also say that members of the dog family are good at problem solving - better than cats. I have not seen the original research document so the conclusions as written up in newspapers may not be completely accurate. This article is a bit of gossip about the conclusions of this study - my instant and biased thoughts, no more.
The study begs some questions. We know that there are different types of intelligence. Pure problem solving is not the only kind. We don't hear of dogs foretelling the death of a hospital patient and then comforting the patient, for example. I am not sure if the study measured intelligence in a complete way and went beyond brain size and problem solving abilities.
There is also the intriguing possibility that even if the research is accurate things will change over the next millions of years. The domestic cat is adaptable and now lives with and interacts with his or her human companion. The human is the most intelligent animal on the planet. Surely with millions of years of socialisation between cat and human the cat will become more intelligent.
In millions of years time, it is quite possible to imagine human and cat finding a common language and communicating in a more complete and accurate way. If that happened things would dramatically speed up. Of course the dog should also become more intelligent but the dog takes commands unthinkingly. The domestic cat thinks about it and then does what he or she wants to do. Perhaps this attitude will develop into a more questioning approach from the cat and that too will speed up the development of the cat's brain.
What I am saying in defence of the cat is that the study may have got things wrong and even if it is right the cat will catch up in time!
It is also worth making the point that there is a fairly wide spectrum of intelligence between the cat breeds. The more active wildcat hybrids are known to be more intelligent than the passive, relatively uninquisitive Persians, for example. Did the study compare the brains of wild cat to wild dog or domestic cat and dog? There would seem to be a difference. The wild cat has to use its brain more than a domestic cat. This is what makes it more intelligent and the wildcat hybrids are more intelligent than the wholly domestic cat breeds and moggies. I would suspect that the wild cat is as intelligent as the wild dog and in any case we have to mention the lion.
The lion lives in prides. It socialises with other lions. If, as stated, socialisation creates larger brains over millions of years, surely the lion must have the biggest brain of all the cats as it is the only cat that lives in groups except for feral cats who have adapted to this social way of life when there is a food source that feeds the group. However, I have seen nothing to support the notion that the lion is more intelligent than the solitary tiger. Indeed the general view is that the tiger fights smarter than the lion.
For me, the study raises some questions but I suspect that the original research document addresses some of these. It is interesting to speculate nonetheless. One last interesting point, research indicates that intelligent people prefer domestic cats to dogs. A million years of interaction with intelligent people will do the cat no harm in respect of brain size, I say.