Cat lovers, listen up: Vanderbilt study finds dogs are smarter

Joy Montgomery
December 1, 2017

On the other hand, large carnivoran species have high hunting costs and unreliable feeding patterns, which, given the high metabolic cost of brain neurons, might put them at risk of metabolic constraints regarding how many brain neurons they can afford, especially in the cerebral cortex.

A new study provided by Vanderbilt University to phys.org found that dogs have significantly more cortical neurons, the "little gray cells" associated with thinking, planning, and complex behavior.

So why all the headlines declaring dogs are smarter?

The study found that dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million.

"Our findings showed that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can", Herculano-Houzel added. Brown bears have larger brains, but only about as many neurons as cats.

Herculano-Houzel said she believes the number of neurons an animal has 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.

Dogs are believed to have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250
Dogs are believed to have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250

Just because an animal is bigger and has a bigger brain size, that doesn't mean it has more neurons. It's probably the number of neurons that are residing in the brain.

An global team of scientists studied a variety of furry critters and discovered dogs have more neurons in an important part of the brain than cats.

Prof Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University in the USA, added: "I would bet money on a large dog over a cat any time". After their evaluation, they found out that animals who had larger brains also tended to have more neurone than the smaller one. Turns out, according to the study, the ratio of neurons to brain size in small and medium-sized carnivores was about the same as herbivores.

They also noted that the bear's brain is 10 times larger than a cat's, yet has the same amount of neurons.

Herculano-Houzel herself admits that, while the study was objective, she herself does have a bit of a bias.

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