Domestic cats are as smart as bears but not as smart as dogs

A research study has come up with some nice comparisons of brain size and the number of neurons amongst a selection of carnivores – see below:

  • Human – 16 billion
  • Gorillas – 8-9 billion
  • Chimpanzees – 6-7 billion
  • African elephant – 5.6 billion
  • Golden retriever – 627 million
  • Lion – 500 million
  • Hyena – 495 million
  • Small dog/mutt – 429 million
  • Racoon – 348 million
  • Cat – 250 million
  • Brown bear – 251 million
  • Mongoose – 116 million
  • Ferret – 39 million

The number of neurons is not reflected in brain size. For example the brown bear has a brain ten times the size of a cat’s even though the number of neurons is similar.

Brain size comparison amongst selection of carnivores

Brain size comparison amongst selection of carnivores. Image: Vanderbilt University

It is speculated that the dog’s assumed superior intelligence over the domestic cat is due to pack living (social living) as opposed to the solitary lifestyle of the cat. Although domestic cats are adapting to group living, the domestic cat’s wild ancestor is a solitary hunter. A social lifestyle demands more complex behaviors to enable cooperation.

I have used the word ‘assumed’ because the study’s leader, Dr Suzana Herculano-Houzel, stated that she believes that..

“the 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,”

She believes that dogs have the ability to do much more complex things with their lives than cats. She uses the word ‘cats’ but must specifically domestic cats as the lion (living in prides) has almost the same number of neurons as a Golden Retriever.

Brief comment: ‘Intelligence’ is a tricky subject to discuss and compare. And there will be wide variations amongst individuals of a species as we are well aware with respect to people. There are different types of intelligence. This study does not appear to discuss this.

Dr Suzana is the Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences, of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

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Domestic cats are as smart as bears but not as smart as dogs — 2 Comments

  1. I’ve had both dogs and cats throughout my life. While dogs learn, usually rather quickly, and thrive to please their humans, cats seem to out shine them for the most part. Cats get a bad reputation for being less intelligent because those doing the studies prefer dogs. Plus the cat’s independence is mistaken for lack of intellect. Poor kitties. I find that most “scientists” conduct studies with blinders on, never truly seeing the entire picture before making their conclusion. They start the studies with a preconceived notion of what the outcome will be and stick with that line of thinking, never looking at all possibilities.

  2. our feral colony demonstrated group living and quite frankly I find dogs stupid , needy and their main drive in life is to guard their food resource. Their human guardian.
    In the world of nature dogs are blunt instruments while cats are fine tuned machines or grace, beauty and efficiency.
    This endless debate and tilted studies to prove dogs are superior pets is tiresome. If you like dogs get a dog if you like cats get a cat.
    Pets are a personal preference I find dogs annoying, stupid, needy and just tiresome.
    This is not dog bashing I’m simply trying to explain that keeping a pet is based on preference if you use intelligence as your guideline you may end up very disappointed with the animal.
    We had dogs early in our marriage and it always felt like a lead weight strapped to our sides.

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