Are Cats Smarter Than Dogs?

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Cat lovers argue their pets are smarter because they are more independent, have high curiosity, and are very efficient hunters. On the other hand, dogs are considered intelligent by many people because they are friendlier, loyal, and joyous.

Scientists have tried to settle this debate by looking at brain size, studying the number of neurons, and analyzing the behavior of these two pets.

The question on your mind right now is: are these studies by scientists conclusive? Is there a winner in this debate? Read on to find out more.

The differences in behavior

Before we dive into the scientific research on which is the smarter pet, let us look at the differences in behavior between cats and dogs. After all, how else do pet owners determine which is the more intelligent animal if not at analyzing their characters?

Pack mentality

Dogs are pack members. They are wild counterparts of wolves and thrive in groups.

Because of their pack mentality, dogs view their owner as the pack leader. Therefore, they depend on the owner for direction. That explains why your dog tries hard to get involved in your routine. Cats are similar to other felines such as tigers, leopards, and cheetahs: they are solitary hunters.

Therefore, a cat is an independent animal that does not rely on you for many things aside from the basics such as food. A cat is comfortable spending long hours alone. Since they are solitary, you need to take the first step to connect with a cat. Still, a cat does enjoy a pat and a scratch from you (the owner). If independence were the only factor under consideration, a cat seems the more intelligent animal of the two.

Bathroom usage

A cat can use a litter box placed in the house. Naturally, dogs prefer to relieve themselves outside, and they are very selective about the spot they choose to release. That is not to say you cannot train your dog to use the litterbox. The difference is that a cat learns to use the litter box faster; you only need to warn it a few times.

So, when it comes down to bathroom usage, the cat seems smarter than the dog.


Ask many cat owners, and they will tell you it is impossible to train a cat effectively. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to train a dog. That is the reason we have sniffer dogs, police dogs, and companion dogs. Dogs are easy to train due to the pack mentality: they are willing to obey their owners’ instructions. Cats are not that obedient, because of their independence. But, that is not to say they are not trainable.

When training a cat, keep the sessions short, as felines get bored quickly. The key is consistency. If you keep training your cat, they will eventually learn, mainly because they have a good memory. When trainability is the factor under consideration, dogs seem more intelligent than cats.


Both canines and felines are carnivores – they eat meat. However, a cat is an obligate carnivore while a dog is a scavenging carnivore. In layman’s terms, a dog can survive on a vegetarian diet alone, when they have to, while cats need a meat diet. In fact, according to Dr. Jeff Werber, an LA-based veterinarian, a cat needs a meat diet to produce certain amino acids it needs to survive.

The two most essential amino acids for cats are taurine (responsible for eye, skin, and heart health) and arginine (which produces other amino acids required to bind ammonia to reduce its toxicity in the cat’s system). Therefore, you need to supplement your cat’s diet with a meat and fish diet.

Dog owners do not have to feed their lovely pets with meat protein, although that is not to say they thrive well on a vegetarian diet. That said, most pet owners think a dog is smarter and more intuitive as it can feed on a variety of foods, and does not mind vegetative diets.

Hunting Prowess

The clear winner here is a cat. It can climb, crawl, jump and pounce on its prey. A domestic dog hardly hunts (it doesn’t have to). But, even if a cat does not have to hunt (you are providing food), it will occasionally kill a bird or a mouse, even if just for sport. Dogs are bound to the ground, though some do jump. So, they have to chase for prey.

Due to the limited space in your home, and backyard, a dog will hardly ever successfully hunt.

The difference in hunting also explains the difference in how these two animals approach playtime. Dogs enjoy catch, search, and puzzle games. Cats, on the other hand, enjoy pouncing on their play toys, and climbing and jumping to reach said play toys.

The bottom line is, that looking at behavior alone to judge the intellectual difference between these two pets is open to bias. It depends on what you want your pet to do. Furthermore, just like humans, personality has a significant impact on the behavior of cats and dogs. Other contributors to this behavior are the breed and species of the cat or dog and the growing environment.


Dogs have more neurons than cats

In an attempt to determine which of the two was more intelligent, neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel studied the gray matter of cats and dogs. She counted the neurons in their brains and found out that dogs have 530 million neurons, while cats have only 250 million neurons. If that information is anything to go by, it means dogs are twice as intelligent as cats.

Why use neurons to determine intellectual capacity? Neurons are responsible for relaying information in the central nervous system (CNS). So, the more neurons, the more information an animal can process.

Cats and dogs may be equally intelligent

Neurons aside, studies suggest cats can be similarly smart as dogs. Japanese researchers recently found out that in specific memory tests, the performance of cats equals that of dogs. The study involved 49 cats and concluded that cats could recall some enjoyable experiences, including devouring their favorite dish.

Scholars refer to memories of specific experiences as episodic memories. Animals with the ability of episodic memories include humans [of course] and their primate counterparts such as gorillas, pigeons, rats, dogs, and now cats. On the flip side of episodic memory is semantic memory, which has developed from facts and rules crucial for the survival of a species.

During the period of the research, the cats were fed using different bowls. The researchers soon learned the favorite foods of the cats, after which they served each type of food in a specific container. The cats learned to identify what was in the serving and when it would show up in their feeding bowl. The researchers observed this by switching the type of food in a particular dish.

Additionally, the researcher learned that the cats remembered if they had searched a specific bowl when seeking a particular kind of food. The researchers further concluded that cats could remember for a more extended period. Another conclusion was that cats are at equal performance with dogs in mental tests such as responding to human emotions, facial expressions, and gestures.

As cat enthusiasts, we can only hope that they will study for how long a cat can remember and what episodic memories, other than a favorite food, they can form.

Encephalization Quotient: Comparing Intelligence between species

In the ’70s, scientists came up with the Encephalization Quotient (EQ) in an attempt to compare the intelligence between species. EQ determines information by comparing brain weight to body size. EQ was an improvement on previous studies that linked brain size to intellectuality. EQ dictates that substantial brain weight relative to body size equals higher intellectuality.

EQ is quite convincing since the results showed that the most intelligent animals were humans. Closely following are apes, then porpoises, and elephants. Dogs are further up than kitties, which are farther up the list than horses, sheep, and rats. According to EQ, social animals, such as dogs, have higher intelligence than solitary animals since socializing demands problem-solving and communication.

In fact, according to Dr. Stanley Coren, the author of “The Intelligence of Dogs,” dogs are becoming more intelligent due to the increasing need for interaction with humans. The comparison between the intelligence of cats and dogs is inaccurate. The question of whether a cat is smarter than a dog is in itself problematic.

Why is a question you may ask? These are two different species. According to Dr. Coren, that comparison is like comparing apples to bananas. The point is that such a comparison cannot have an accurate conclusion. Another scientist, Brian Hare of Duke’s University Canine Cognition Center, says comparing the intellectual capacities of different species is more like comparing a hammer to a screwdriver and asking which is the better tool of the two.

Charles Darwin, the pioneer of evolutionary studies, once claimed that intelligence in animals should be a measure of how efficient an animal has become at performing tasks it needs to survive. Dogs and cats, due to their difference, have adapted to perform different tasks. Felines, stalk their prey until there is an excellent opportunity to strike and they are better at handling things with their paws.

Dogs, like most other canines, do not stalk prey, they chase. Therefore, they are better runners. When testing intelligence, researchers require animals to perform different tasks. A test involving speed will favor a dog, while a test involving pulling will favor a cat.

Each species in the universe due to evolution has adapted behavior necessary for its survival and reproduction. Would it make sense to see a dolphin waiting at the top of a tree or a chimp hunting for prey in the ocean? These two species are geniuses in their natural environment.

Another problem with comparing cats to dogs is the fact that cat research is not afforded the same attention and funding dogs do. There are not enough studies comparing dog and cat cognition, and very few researchers study cats. The point is, that no one can accurately compare the intelligence of two different species. Therefore, we should stop comparing the knowledge of cats and dogs, at least until scientists and pet enthusiasts find the right methods and experiments to compare dogs and cats effectively intellectually.

How to effectively train your cat

The reason most people consider dogs to be smarter than cats is because it is challenging to train a cat. Emphasis on difficult, not impossible. Aside from using the litter box, you can prepare your cat to do one or more of the following things:

  • Sitting
  • Shaking hands or the Hi 5
  • Come towards you when you call its name
  • Begging
  • Walking on a leash
  • Using the toilet (not the litterbox; the normal toilet humans use).

The following things are required to train a cat effectively:

•    Treats

Like dogs, to reinforce and encourage specific behavior, you need to reward the cat. The difference here is, that a dog readily obeys because it wants to please you. A cat, on the other hand, needs an excellent reason to follow.

So, you need treats during training. Cat pellets or milk will not do the trick. Neither will excessive praise; contrary to dogs, cats care less about approvals. Gifts of your pet’s favorite food are what you need. Most cats will do anything for a treat of catnip, fish, or a piece of chicken.

•    A Clicker

You also need a clicker. The idea is to help your cat understand why you are rewarding it. So, train, click, then reward. Eventually, the cat will learn the trick or task.

•    Short training sessions

Cats easily get bored and get tired quickly. So, you should keep the training sessions short. Expert cat trainers recommend training sessions of about 15 minutes. The 15-minute rule also applies to play courses. After that period leave the cat alone (remember, it is a solitary animal).

•    Consistency and patience

Consistency is important. It is the only way to ensure a cat learns a particular trick and remembers it. Consistency does not mean that you train your cat with every chance you get. One or two sessions a day are enough.

Pro Tip: Do not punish your cat; they do not learn from discipline. Punishing your cat might induce stress, and consequently behavioral and health problems.

Cats have different personality traits, and as the owner, you should know your cat’s personality. For instance, some cats will willingly sit beside you for warmth, or learn to Hi 5, while others prefer to lie alone in the corner. The point is, do not force your cat to perform a trick it does not want to do.


Comparing the smartness of dogs and cats is complicated, inconclusive, and something that scientists and pet enthusiasts will not agree on for a long time to come. So, focus on loving your cat or dog. After all, you keep them for companionship, not for their brain capacity.

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