How Smart Are Dogs Compared to Cats

  • HappyFitDog
  • Time to read: 7 min.

Research has shown that dogs have approximately 500 million neurons in their cerebral cortex, while cats have only 250 million. However, we must keep the following in mind:


  • When it comes to associative learning, dogs are found to have no advantages over cats whatsoever. The two species are also equally smart when it comes to processing and assessing new information.


  • Physical cognition in dogs is also nothing special when compared to cats. Their performance is on par with horses, wolves, and dolphins. 


  • When it comes to spatial tasks, dogs do not perform better than cats, or any other animals, for that matter.


How Smart Are Dogs Compared to Cats


It is time to tackle the age-old question: how smart are dogs compared to cats? I have been fortunate enough to have both animals as pets and companions. From my observation, both cats and dogs exhibit types of intelligence that make them appear smarter than the other.

On one hand, dogs can learn to follow commands and appear as if they really understand what you are saying to them. Cats, on the other hand, excel at opening doors, solving puzzles, and appearing to be very independent and cunning.


Sure, all cats and dogs have distinct personalities and genetic traits that can make them exceptionally smart or really good at something. However, I wanted to see how the two species compare on a genetic level. Surely someone has done extensive research on the topic and can provide us with accurate information. There has to be a scientific way to determine the answer to the question of how smart are dogs compared to cats.


I did quite a bit of research, and as you might imagine, the findings were quite surprising. In the article below, we will see how scientists define animal intelligence, and how dogs and cats measure up on the smart scale.


How Does Science Define Being Smart?


When it comes to determining brain power, scientists rely on the little gray cells called neurons. Neurons are cells that send and receive communication signals between the body and the brain. They do that via electrical currents in a network called a synapse.

According to scientists, neurons are basically the “information processing units” in a brain. Consequently, the more neurons the brain of an animal has, the more cognitively capable they are. 


Neurons in the cerebral cortex of an animal are responsible for decision making, planning, problem-solving, and complex behavior. And all of those are — you guessed it — the embodiment of intelligence.


Other research steps away from neurons and focuses on brain size and brain complexity in order to determine intelligence. However, the results are far from conclusive, which leaves the number of neurons as the most reliable way to define animal smarts.


In order to see how smart are dogs compared to cats, we will have to analyze their neuron counts and see which species comes out on top.


Inside the Dog’s Brain


Research has shown that a dog’s cortex has approximately 500 million neurons. For comparison purposes, the same area in the average human brain has around 16 billion neurons. That, however, doesn’t mean that dogs are not intelligent — quite the contrary! Dogs are able to memorize hundreds of words, guess what people and other animals are thinking, and even do basic arithmetic. Also, they excel particularly well in the area of social intelligence.


Dogs generally tend to be very responsive and attentive to humans, which is a sure sign of social cognitive prowess. Thousands of years of evolution have made dogs able to accurately read and assess human behavior. For that reason, they are such great companions to us. 


On top of all that, dogs closely monitor how humans interact among themselves. Hundreds of tests have proven that canines are capable of drawing out complex conclusions. This evolved social intelligence is a result of both evolution and socialization.


Let’s Take a Look at Cats


The very same research we relied upon for the previous section states that the average cat’s cortex has around 250 million neurons. This is exactly half of what the average dog has! However, that doesn’t necessarily put cats at a disadvantage when compared to dogs. Let’s delve deeper and see how the cat’s brain works.


The brain of a cat shares some remarkable similarities to a human one. For example, the parts of a cat’s brain are specialized and connected to one another, allowing cats to easily assess and manipulate their surroundings. Cats have more neurons in the visual area of their cortex than almost any other mammal, including humans. That allows them to comprehend things most other animals cannot even see. 


Additionally, cats demonstrate remarkable short- and long-term memory. This probably explains why they are so good at holding grudges for years! Probably the most interesting sign of the intelligence of cats is the fact that they refuse to let us research it properly! Cats are almost impossible to assess since they refuse to participate in tests or follow directions. They simply don’t want to listen to us.


Do Dogs Have Any Cognitive Advantages Over Cats?


So, it appears that dogs have twice the number of neurons when compared to cats. That must mean they are twice as smart, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to science, the answers are never that simple. 

Dog Training Solution
I came across an exhaustive study that compares the cognitive abilities of dogs versus other animals, including cats. Here are the main points concerning how smart are dogs compared to cats:


  • When it comes to associative learning, dogs are found to have no advantages over cats whatsoever. The two species are also equally smart when it comes to processing and assessing new information.


  • Physical cognition in dogs is also nothing special when compared to cats. Their performance is on par with horses, wolves, and dolphins. 


  • While dogs have an exceptional sense of smell, so do cats. 


  • When it comes to spatial tasks, dogs do not perform better than cats, or any other animals, for that matter.


However, there is one area where canines clearly excel over felines. According to the same research, the dog’s sense of taste is more developed than the cat’s. Due to their genetic structure, dogs can respond to sweetness, while cats simply cannot.


Sometimes Numbers and Facts Aren’t Enough


Other researchers claim that we simply cannot compare the intelligence of different species. It is like wondering if a pair of pliers is better than a screwdriver. They are different tools designed to solve a specific problem, so comparing them is meaningless. For example, when it comes to hunting, no one can beat felines. Dogs come in second, while us genetically smart humans are at the bottom of the list. 


Generally, scientists claim that dogs are smarter than cats. However, one reason for that might be the fact that cats have not been tested enough. Dogs are responsive and friendly, as well as prone to accepting commands. That makes them the perfect test subjects. As a result, dogs have undergone myriads of tests. The information we have regarding dog intelligence is much more complete and accurate.


As we already mentioned, cats are not the ideal test subjects. They refuse to cooperate and generally don’t care about what we humans want from them. Due to this, most researchers do not even know how to properly test a feline! We end up subjecting them to the same tests as dogs, and this methodology is far from effective, according to people in the field.


So, How Smart Are Dogs Compared to Cats?


As someone who has taken care of both types of pets, it is impossible to determine which one is smarter than the other. Since I had limited knowledge of the science behind animal intelligence, I decided to do some extensive research. Unfortunately, that wasn’t of much help either, as you have already figured out on your own.


Sure, dogs have twice the number of cortex neurons that cats have, but that doesn’t really tell us anything. Tests in dogs have not shown them to have any significant advantages over felines. On the other hand, the limited information we have on cats stops us from making an adequate comparison. If only we could get them to cooperate for once! We might actually answer the question of how smart are dogs compared to cats?


Defining animal smarts and determining which species dominates will probably take science some more time. Our billions of neurons still have a lot of work to do on the subject. In the meantime, we can safely assume that dogs are just as smart as cats, and vice versa. All animals are smart and unique in their own way, and we shouldn’t be putting labels on them without accurate scientific information.




I hope you have enjoyed my article on the topic of how smart are dogs compared to cats? I have to admit, I learned quite a lot about how the mammal brain works. Also, I had no idea about the specific cognitive abilities of cats and dogs, and how they compare to one another. Still, I find it funny that cats appear to be much more dominant than dogs. It’s almost as if they are training us to respond to their every whim! Dogs, on the other hand, are much more loyal and obedient. I wonder what animals have to say about our level of intelligence.


As you can see, we cannot present a concrete answer to the question at hand yet. Fortunately, I am not one for giving up so easily. I am looking forward to researching the topic even further and presenting you with more interesting information.


In the meantime, feel free to browse the rest of my blog and read some of the other articles. You will find quite a lot of fun and informative articles concerning dog behavior and care. See you at the next one!

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