popular science

bow down, grumpy cat

We hear this one a lot — “Cats are sooo sophistically intelligent!”

But, about six months ago, our little family zoo received a feline member. And sincerely, I don’t see much brainiac actions there. Sorry, Nami.

Both of them, Luffy (a 4-year-old border collie) and Nami (8-months-old stray kitten) occasionally pee or poop on the rug, chew our sneakers and snarf down each other’s food and water, and sometimes, the entire human dinner the minute we turn our heads.

But who is smarter, like, for real?
The neuroscience has spoken.

It turns out, doggos are measurably smarter than cats.

Researchers at Vanderbilt decided to put the age-old debate to the test objectively, studying the number of cortical neurons in the brains of a number of animals.

The results?

Canines, aka dogs, had a significantly higher number than felines.

Let’s talk numbers.

But who is smarter, like, for real?
The neuroscience has spoken.

Dogs, it turns out, have about 530millioncortical neurons.

Cats have less than half that, coming in with 250 million.

Is it big, is it small??

To put things in micro-math perspective, we humans have about 16 billion neurons inside our heads.

Researchers and scientists believe that 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.

The researchers analyzed the brains of one or two specimens from six more carnivoran species, aside from cats and dogs: ferret, mongoose, raccoon, hyena, lion and brown bear.

They expected that their measurements would confirm the intuitive hypothesis that the brains of carnivores should have more cortical neurons than the herbivores they prey upon.

Why? — Because hunting is more demanding, cognitively speaking, compared to the herbivore’s primary strategy of finding safety in sheer numbers.

However, that proved not to be the case.

The researchers determined that the ratio of neurons to brain size in small and medium-sized carnivores was about the same as of herbivores.

In fact, for the largest carnivorans, the neuron-to-brain-size ratio is actually lower.

They found that the brain of a golden retriever has more neurons than a hyena, lion or brown bear, even though the bigger predators have brains up to three times as large.

The bear is an extreme example. Its brain is 10 times larger than a cat’s, but has about the same number of neurons.


Meat eating is largely considered a problem-solver in terms of energy, but, in retrospect, it is clear that carnivory must impose a delicate balance between how much brain and body a species can afford.

Hunting requires a lot of energy, particularly for large predators, and the intervals between successful kills are unpredictable.

That explains why large meat-eating carnivorans like lions spend most of their time resting and sleeping.

The study’s findings also challenge the prevailing view that domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild cousins.

Bonus discovery: The analysis also states that the raccoon was an outlier—on the brainy side. It packs the same number of cortical neurons as a dog into a brain the size of a cat’s.

Raccoons are not your typical carnivoran.

They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate … and well, that’s a lot of neurons.

://purrr away :*

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