It’s an age old question: are dogs smarter than cats? Dogs can be trained to do a variety of tricks very well, cats are much harder to train. Yet cats are extremely skilled natural hunters with unlimited curiosity.
A neuroscientist, a dog cognition expert, and a cat behavior researcher got together to answer the question. When brain cells are counted, one animal clearly has more. Still, recent studies challenge our ideas of what it means to be smart.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel (the neuroscientist) studies animal intelligence by looking at their brains. She found that dogs have twice as many brain cells as cats.
“Then the logical implication is that, yes, dogs are much more capable than cats,” Herculano-Houzel said.
Brian Hare, the dog cognition expert, is hesitant to compare intelligence across species. Hare says intelligence in animals is usually put in human terms.
“Asking which species is smarter is like asking if a hammer is a better tool than a screwdriver,” Hare says. “Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course it depends on the problem we are trying to solve.”
Every animal has been shaped by evolution to solve the most important problems they face in the wild. So judging cats against dogs is problematic, since they come from different environments with different challenges.
So how should we study animal intelligence?
“A lot of what we already know about intelligence in other species falls on a gradient or a spectrum,” said Kristyn Vitale Shreve, a cat cognition and behavior research fellow at Oregon State University.
Consider hunting skills, for example. Cats are one of the most skilled, dogs are in the middle, and humans around the bottom. But if we test math, humans are on top and both animals are at the bottom.
One of the problems is that we don’t have the right methods to investigate dogs and cats side by side to get meaningful data. So, at least right now, it’s unfair to make too many comparisons.
“There’s this perception of cats being untrainable or maybe hard to work with,” Vitale Shreve said. “Cats display a lot of individual variation and have distinct personalities, which make it hard for researchers to understand them.”
Basically, there is no definitive answer on which is more intelligent, and it really depends on what you need a dog or a cat for.
The important thing is that we all love our pets as much as we can.
Source: PBS News Hour