The never-ending fight between dog and cat people for their beloved companions’ intelligence might’ve come to an end.
A more recent study shows that dogs stand out among carnivores for having a remarkably dense cerebral cortex. A team of researchers analyzed brain layers of more carnivorous animals, including cats and dogs, in order to determine whether the demands of hunting prey mean higher brain power.
It’s not easy to determine this, because in order to compare brains of different animal species you have to take into consideration the relative body and brain size, and not just weight their grey matter.
So, a better way of determining relative amounts of processing power was counting the cells.
“I believe the absolute 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”, says Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist from Vanderbilt University in the US.
According to previous studies, cats were considered to have higher brain power, but now it seems we have been a little hasty handing the trophy to them.
The team made the research based on eight different carnivorous species: a ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear.
The results showed that dogs have twice as much neurons than cats, or closer to 530 million neurons, compared to the 250 million of cats. Not only this, but dogs also had more neurons than any other carnivore tested, even though they didn’t have the largest brain.
Researcher had a hypothesis that carnivores have more neurons in their cerebral cortex in comparison with their pray, but this didn’t turn out to be true. The ratio of neurons to brain size in most carnivores was roughly equivalent to that of herbivores, suggesting the hunted needed about the same level of brain power to escape as the hunters needed to catch them.
An interesting discovery was that bigger animals, such as brown bears had the same number of cortical neurons with cats, although they don’t share the same size. Being bigger might help when it comes to catching food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean being smarter as well.
So is it time to give dogs their due?
Herculano-Houzel confessed that he is a dog person, and with this new discovery he points out that dogs have the biological capability of doing more complex and flexible things with their lives than other animals can.
However, this capability doesn’t necessarily mean intelligence. It’s a known fact that cats are harder to study simply because they don’t care about “science”.
So if you liked this article, here’s one more fun fact: the real oddball carnivore is the raccoon! Even though it’s close to cats in terms of size, it actually has a similar number of neurons to dogs, considering raccoons can smash intelligence tests, we’re not surprised.