We’re often told that dogs are smarter than cats, but what if I told you that wasn’t true? In fact, there are actually many ways that cats are smarter than dogs, you just don’t always hear about them. If you’ve owned both cats and dogs before, you may have come to this realization sooner than you expected.
Below, we’ll discuss 8 reasons why cats are smarter than dogs along with the scientific evidence to back it up. To learn more about why you should consider a cat instead of a dog, please read on!
Believe it or not, scientists have actually counted the number of neurons in cat and dog brains. If you aren’t familiar with the term, neurons are brain cells. On average, we humans have 86 billion neurons in our brains. In comparison, dogs have approximately 530 million neurons, while cats have 250 million neurons. But wait, doesn’t that means dogs would be smarter than cats?
Not necessarily! While higher neuron quantity can speak for a certain level of intelligence, another aspect of it is where the neurons are located in the brain. In the case of cats versus dogs, cats actually have twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as dogs do.
The cerebral cortex is typically responsible for cognition and information processing. It is related to complex problem-solving and decision-making skills, which heavily influence the response of living things to various stimuli. Because cats have more neurons in this part of the brain than dogs, some scientists believe this could indicate that cats are smarter at problem-solving than dogs. In fact, cats have more neurons in the visual parts of their brain than humans. This likely contributes to cats’ quick ability to observe other cat behavior and learn from it.
Having brains doesn’t just mean size and neurons. The structure of the brain plays an important part when it comes to its function. All brains have some level of “surface folding,” which is what gives brains their bumpy appearance. These folds help with communication between neurons in different parts of the brain. Often, scientists attribute more folds in the brain to higher intelligence, as it indicates that neurons can communicate more efficiently with one another.
While cat brains are smaller in size than dog brains, they have significantly more surface folding than dogs. Scientists even say that the surface folding of cats’ brains is approximately 90% similar to the brains of humans! Though surface folding by itself doesn’t equal knowledge, it does show that cats have a strong capability to be intelligent.
Owners have long wondered if cats are able to be taught tricks the same way dogs can. Dogs are known to pick up commands quickly in exchange for a tasty treat, but humans have generally had less luck with cats. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean dogs are smarter than cats in terms of learning tricks. Studies have shown that cats are able to learn commands quickly, they just don’t want to.
Like dogs, cats can learn tricks like ringing bells, pressing buttons, flipping switches, sitting, spinning, and jumping. While some cats are more compliant than others, the rest just don’t see a tasty treat as enough incentive to obey. Cats that do, however, are just as smart as dogs when it comes to learning new tricks. Don’t think that means your cat will be too keen to start training, though.
While most people know about dog social order (think wolfpacks), cat social order is rarely discussed. This is mostly because scientists previously believed that cats didn’t have a social order like dogs. Cats are so independent that the idea of a complex social order was not looked into for quite some time. In the 1990s, however, researchers discovered that cats do have a social order that they follow.
Feral cat communities display a matriarchal society. Females typically head the group and form lineages with other females they are related to. These females will continue to reproduce and add to their group as cats with the largest lineages have the best chances of acquiring resources such as food and water. These feral cat groups also engage in communal kitten care, where all the females assist in raising the young.
Even if your cats are domesticated, you may have noticed some displays of dominance between your kitties. Some cat owners report that introducing a female cat to a previously-established male cat results in aggression from the male. This is likely because the introduction of the female shifts the social dynamic in the home. Now, the female is the head of the pack, which is met with defensive behavior from the prior-ruling male. These behaviors can include:
Marking of territory
As these cats get to know each other, they may establish a routine in the hierarchy. For example, the female cat may establish their favorite spot on the cat tree, while the others establish different spots as their own. Having their own clear territories prevents fighting in the future.
While some may boil this down to instinct, scientists recognize that there is a significant level of intelligence behind these behaviors. Cats must recognize this social structure and adapt their behaviors permanently, such as by remembering their territories and staying out of others. In this way, cats are just as smart as dogs, if not smarter.
While cats and dogs both show emotion, cats show some more than dogs do. Cats generally are not as patient as dogs and show irritation quickly compared to their canine counterparts. They are also more impulsive and can get frustrated quickly if they don’t perceive an activity as rewarding. You’ve probably seen this first-hand if your cat has ever passive-aggressively knocked your things off the table.
One study determined that cats were more likely than dogs to show emotions such as anger and disgust in response to certain stimuli. This same study also showed that dogs show more joy than cats, but some researchers suggest this is only because dogs have a more physical response to joy than cats (i.e. wagging tail, panting, jumping).
The bottom line is cats know what they want, and when they want it. Dogs instead will do just about anything to please their owners. This ability for cats to prioritize their own desires above the desires of others indicates to some researchers a higher level of intelligence in cats than in dogs.
Lots of studies have been conducted on cats and dogs to determine how smart they are when solving problems. While dogs are better at counting than cats, studies have shown that cats are able to track more complex patterns than dogs. In one study, dogs and cats were both tasked with following puzzles until they solved them. Dogs who struggled with the puzzle quickly turned to their owners for assistance, unwilling to continue attempting to solve it themselves.
Cats, on the other hand, rarely asked for assistance from their owners. The cats in the trial persevered through the puzzles, not stopping until they had found the solution. This individual determination indicates a level of intelligence found in cats but not dogs. The most satisfying thing to your cat is their ability to solve their problems themselves!
As mentioned before, cats have more neurons in their cerebral cortex than dogs do. While that often impacts their decision-making and responses, it also impacts their memory. The cerebral cortex is responsible for storing both long-term and short-term memory. Knowing this, many studies have been done on cats and dogs to determine the impact this neuronal difference has on kitty memory.
The verdict is in: cats do have longer memories than dogs in both short-term and long-term memory. Though cats are skilled at learning from seeing the actions of others, they remember even better when they practice by doing. For example, your cat may learn to use a litter box by observing another cat using a litter box, but they’ll remember to use it better once they’ve done it themselves.
Cats can also remember cues for long periods of time, such as the pointing of fingers or the response to certain behaviors. For example, one of the reasons cats knock items off your table is to get attention. If your cat believes he or she isn’t getting enough attention from you, they know that you’ll respond to them if they knock something down. Even cats perceive bad attention as better than no attention at all. And they’ll certainly remember it in the future!
As mentioned previously, cats are able to learn lots of different tricks – they often just don’t want to perform them. While this may be frustrating to cat owners, some researchers say that this reluctance to perform is a sign of intelligence in and of itself. Cats are able to recognize the labor of an act versus the quality of the reward, which is seemingly not as important to dogs. While dogs will do tricks just to make their owners happy (or for the world’s tiniest treat), cats may observe a treat and decide the effort is just not worth it. That mental balance of pros versus cons shows a level of intelligence exceeding dogs in the task department.
As we can see from these eight reasons, cats are often smarter than dogs. However, it’s only in some ways. Lots of researchers say that cat and dog intelligence is so different that they shouldn’t even be compared. However, it’s clear that cats do have a leg up over dogs even in just a few ways. So if you have both cats and dogs, don’t be discouraged. Fido is probably at least as smart as your kitty… Maybe.
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