Dogs Vs. Cats: Find Out Who's the Smartest Pet

Dogs have more neurons, but cats have a more complex brain. So, are dogs or cats more intelligent?

Published July 10, 2023
A dog and cat looking at each other.

There's an easy way to start an epic battle among your cat friends and dog friends. Just ask them which pet they think is smarter. It would be nice - just for the sake of peace - if we could tell you one or the other takes the top prize for intelligence. But the truth is, the answer isn't as clear-cut as you might hope. Instead, it depends on how we define intelligence, and what aspects of their abilities we focus on. Each pet shines in different areas.

How Do We Measure Intelligence?

Before we can answer who is smarter, we need to determine what intelligence means. In humans, we evaulate intelligence based on our intelligence quotient (IQ). This measure assesses problem-solving skills, memory, and the ability to learn.

However, applying a measurement like this to animals isn't meaningful (have you ever tried to get a dog or cat to sit down for a multiple choice test?) because it doesn't translate to the way animals process information. Consequently, when we talk about animal intelligence, we often look at various factors such as problem-solving abilities, social cognition, memory, and trainability.

Fast Fact

Even researchers aren't sure how to quantify animal intelligence. Scientists have developed "cognitive test batteries" to evaluate animal intelligence. Results are inconsistent and contradictory, so more study is needed.

Dogs As Pack Animals

Dog pack at the park, watching their person.

Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years for specific roles, including hunting, herding, and protection. As pack animals, dogs are inherently social creatures, and their intelligence often shines through their interactions with humans and other dogs. Service dogs are an excellent example of this. They can understand what you're saying without any words through your emotions, body language, and facial expressions.

Dogs are highly trainable, and this makes for a flashy display of their intelligence. They can learn a variety of commands, tricks, and tasks. Dogs can do this because they were bred to care about pleasing humans and follow human commands. Their ability to learn from human instruction highlights their problem-solving abilities and adaptability. And, that indicates a high level of intelligence.

Fast Fact

Wolves actually perform better than dogs on some tests of problem solving and following social cues from humans. However, this doesn't neccessarily mean wolves are smarter. See how complicated this question is?

Cats Are Independent

Cat hunting alone in the grass.

When it comes to cats, training is often thought to be more difficult. Cats are solitary hunters who are well-equipped for an independent lifestyle. They haven't been bred for specific jobs to the same extent as dogs, but that doesn't mean we can say dogs are smarter.

While cats may not be as easily trainable as dogs, they do have impressive problem-solving skills. Research has shown that cats are capable of complex problem-solving to obtain what they want or need through cause-and-effect logic. However, it's worth noting that cats did not perform as well as dogs in this specific test to pull a string for a reward. That may not be a fair comparison, however, as cats are much more independent than dogs.

Fast Fact

Although they may not appear to know, cats can distinguish between their names and other words. Their ability to find hidden food is similar to dogs when they're interested, suggesting enhanced problem-solving skills.

Breed Makes a Difference

Breed makes a difference in the type of intelligence a cat or dog has. The most intelligent dog breed is the border collie, while the most intelligent cat breed is the Abyssinian. How were these determined? The smartest dog in the world, Chaser, learned to identify more than 1,000 proper nouns throughout her lifetime. The smartest cat in the world, Alexis, performed 26 tricks in just 60 seconds.

However, if you asked military personnel if they would rather have their traditional Belgian malinois or Chaser the border collie, they would choose their partner. Why? Because they are intelligent in ways the smartest dog in the world isn't. Breed makes a difference because each one has their own unique set of traits and expertise. The same is true when we compare dogs and cats.

Brain Structure: Dogs vs. Cats

When looking at the physical brain, dogs generally have larger brains than cats. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, dogs have about twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats. Since the cerebral cortex is associated with complex cognitive behaviors, some scientists argue that dogs are smarter than cats.

However, it's important to note that brain size doesn't necessarily correlate with intelligence. Cats may have fewer neurons, but their brains are more complex. According to researchers, a cat's brain structure is about 90% similar to a human's brain, which shows complexity and potential cognitive abilities.

Need to Know

The key question is whether brain structure or brain composition is more important. Scientists are still trying to determine the answer.

The Verdict

So, who's smarter? Dogs or cats? The honest answer is, it's a tie. Both dogs and cats show intelligence in their own way, shaped by their instincts and roles alongside humans. Dogs, as social creatures, excel in social cognition and trainability, while cats, as independent hunters, impress with their problem-solving skills and environmental cognition. Neither one is actually smarter than the other, overall.

Dogs Vs. Cats: Find Out Who's the Smartest Pet