Are cats or dogs smarter?
This is what is known about the intellectual capacity of cats and dogs, compared.
Most of us have lived with a pet, be it a dog, cat or other, and have often been surprised by their behavior.
But which ones are the smartest? Let's find out if cats or dogs are smarter, and their Biological explanation..
Which are smarter, cats or dogs?
Society is divided between cat lovers and dog lovers, excluding a small part of the population that either equally adores these animals or does not like either of them. Frequently, between one and the other, arguments arise about whether cats or dogs are more intelligent. But what is the truth of the matter?
What is certain is that, advancing the conclusion of the explanations that we are going to see below, dogs are more intelligent than cats, in general terms.. Surely many people (cat lovers) will disagree with this statement, but we are going to explore carefully the fundamentals that support it.
In the following points we will delve into the brain structures of these two species, the different types of intelligence that have been evaluated and the curious experiments that have been carried out in order to measure them in an appropriate way, adapting to the characteristics of these peculiar subjects of study.
The brains of dogs and cats
Ignoring the obvious differences between breeds and taking the average sizes as a reference, the dog's brain is much larger, the dog's brain is much larger than the cat's brain.. In fact, we are talking about a difference of more than double, since the dog's cerebral cortex is composed of about 530 million neurons, compared to 250 million in the cat's cortex.
Why such a huge difference? Some studies relate it to a characteristic of dogs that is not present in felines: sociability.. While cats prefer a solitary life, with occasional interactions with their fellows and with humans, dogs need continuous contact, as gregarious animals.
As a matter of fact, a dog that does not have the proper social stimulation can develop pathologies and behavioral disorders. and behavioral disorders, as it is being deprived of an element that is necessary for its development and daily life.
This socialization requires more developed brain structures, and is observed not only in dogs, but also in other species such as dolphins, elephants, horses or monkeys. On the other hand, animals that do not live in community, such as rhinoceroses or deer, as well as cats, have not experienced this brain growth in the evolutionary history of the species.
Experiments with dogs
There are countless studies carried out to measure in some way the intelligence of dogs. Let's take a look at some of the most interesting ones.
1. Distinction of stimuli
In one experiment, the dog was placed in a room where there were toys (which he did not know beforehand) and other everyday objects that can be found in a house, such as books. It was then given the command to bring the toy or bring the non-toy, and the hit rate was extraordinary.
This test worked even if we dispensed with the words and simply showed the animal a copy of the item we wanted it to give us.
2. Vicarious learning
Another study showed that dogs are capable of learning by imitation, a relatively complex method that requires some brain structures which requires brain structures (mirror neurons) that not all animals possess.
In this case, dogs were taught to open a door by showing them how it was done and reinforcing them when they succeeded. A control group was established that was not previously shown the procedure to open the door. The result was clear: those who had seen the human open the door learned much faster.
3. Discerning mental states
A very peculiar test consisted of putting the dog in the position of having to request food from one of the two investigators in the room, one of whom was blindfolded.. In all cases they preferred to approach those with whom they could make eye contact as a form of communication.
Going a step further, another experiment was done in which a man kept a number of objects in boxes, locked them and then hid the keys. He would then leave and another person would come in, try to open the boxes, and it was the dog that would bring him to the box. the dog would bring the hidden keys to him so that he could open the boxes..
But the best thing happened when the dynamics of the experiment were changed and this second researcher was present when the first one put the objects away. In that case, the dog did not try to take him to where the keys were, because he knew he had seen how they were hidden. In other words: they knew that the human knew, which is a mental process that demonstrates great intelligence.
Another of the situations observed in the laboratory consisted of exposing the dog to two situations, one in which a person is singing or simply talking in a neutral way, and another in which he pretends to be crying. The animals always decided to approach the person who was crying rather than the other one.. They knew to interpret that the person needed help.
Experiments with cats
It is true that historically, cats have not aroused the same interest as dogs when it comes to performing experiments that measure their abilities, perhaps because of the ease and ease with which they can be that measure their capabilities, perhaps because of the ease and docility of the former when it comes to exposing them to a wide variety of situations and the difficulty of the latter to participate in strange processes, far from the place of reference that is their home.
However, in recent years some researchers are trying to explore this field, so we do have some examples that allow us to compare whether cats or dogs are more intelligent.
One of the tests that has been carried out in a controlled manner is to check if a cat is able to interpret the human gesture of pointing. And, yes, these domestic felines are capable of interpreting the human pointing gesture, these domestic felines are able to interpret what object or place we are referring to when we point our finger at it. to it.
Although it may seem a very elementary behavior, it is not so elementary. It is a good indicator of social intelligence and interpretation of intentionality, and not all species are able to perform it, not even some as close to us as chimpanzees.
2. Social interaction
Another experiment consisted of placing cats in a room where toys and food are available on one side and people on the other. In a higher percentage of cases, the felines preferred social interaction with them rather than moving towards the food or the play elements..
3. Mental state of the owner
In another curious test, the cat and its owner were inside a room, and the researchers connected a fan that made a powerful noise. The cat's reaction, logically, was to take refuge next to its reference person. The key to the experiment was that the person had to speak to the cat in a positive tone, so that it would interpret the situation as a positive one.The key to the experiment was that the person had to speak to the cat in a positive tone, so that it would interpret that the situation was not dangerous and that the fan was not a harmful element.
By doing so, the cats would eventually approach and lie down without any problem. It was deduced that the felines had interpreted the mental state of the owner, attributing that if he was calm it was because there was no harmful element in the environment to be on guard for.
4. Recognizing their name
A recurring question is whether your cats really recognize their name, since on many occasions they do not recognize their name.A recurring question is whether your cats really recognize their name, since they often do not react to it when called.
This test has been carried out in laboratory conditions to clear the doubts once and for all and it has been demonstrated that yes, they do recognize their name, so if you call your cat and it does not react, it does not mean that it does not know that you are calling it, it is simply that it does not feel like going to where you are.
After knowing a small sample of all the tests in which these two animal species have participated, we are in a position to resume the answer to the question of whether cats or dogs are more intelligent.
Dogs have been shown to be capable of more complex skills, requiring greater neural plasticity and more evolved brain structures, and we have seen that this is linked to greater socialization. and more evolved brain structures, and we have seen that this is linked to greater socialization.
Careful, this is not to say that cats are not intelligent, as they are, and very much so. And they are also extremely skilled in very complex physical behaviors. But when it comes to situations that require greater mental complexity, dogs come out on top.
- Jardim-Messeder, D., Lambert, K., Noctor, S., Pestana, M., de Castro, M.E., Bertelsen, M.F., Alagaili, A.N., Mohammad, O.B., Manger, P.R., Herculano-Houzel, S. (2017). Dogs Have the Most Neurons, Though Not the Largest Brain: Trade-Off between Body Mass and Number of Neurons in the Cerebral Cortex of Large Carnivoran Species. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
- Shultz, S., Dunbar, R. (2010). Encephalization is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals but is associated with sociality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Vitale, K.R., Udell, M.A.R. (2015). What's inside your cat's head? A review of cat (Felis silvestris catus) cognition research past, present and future. Animal cognition. Springer.
- Vitale, K.R., Udell, M.A.R. (2019). The quality of being sociable: The influence of human attentional state, population, and human familiarity on domestic cat sociability. Behavioural processes. Elsevier.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)