A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Science Says Dogs Are Smarter Than Cats…Does It Matter?

By now you may have heard the latest news in the seemingly never-ending conflict between “dog people” and “cat people”: study results that were first reported last week* showed dogs have more brain power than cats. Specifically, dogs were found to have more neurons in their cerebral cortex than cats have. The cerebral cortex is the outer part of the brain, where thinking happens, so how many “little gray cells” you have in it is important.

Comparing carnivores’ brains

The researchers, including Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, looked at the brains of eight species of carnivores: bear, lion, ferret, racoon, mongoose, hyena, and (obviously) cat and dog. They wanted to compare the number of neurons vs. brain size between the species. Dogs were found to have about 530 million cortical neurons, vs. 250 million for cats.

What does this mean? Herculano-Houzel—an admitted dog person—was quoted as saying, “I believe 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.” She also said, “Our findings mean to me that dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.” Behaviors like this, I guess:

Dog sleeping on his back_Adobe Stock

I’m kidding (you know I’m kidding, right?). We love dogs. We’re just not sure all that supposed brain power is doing dogs much good, at least in terms of their ability to live a civilized life. After all, while we cats play with our catnip mice and nap in our comfy beds, dogs are barking, drinking from the toilet, and rolling in the smelliest, most vile things they can find, after which they have to get a bath. Now I ask you, is that smart?

Two dogs in the bathtub_Adobe Stock

Dogs and cats are not the same

But what does 530 million cortical neurons vs. 250 million cortical neurons really mean? Well, we take it as further evidence that cats and dogs are not the same. Without descending into yet another argument over who’s better, who’s smarter, who’s more loyal, more loving, more comforting, more fun, more purry, more whatever-is-important-to-you, can we agree that cats are cats and dogs are dogs and they’re all great … just for being who and what they are?

Those  numbers of neurons tell us a lot, but they don't tell us everything. There are brilliant dogs and brilliant cats, and there are dumb dogs and (I hate to say it) dumb cats. There are also some pretty dumb people (despite their 16 billion cortical neurons), and there are plenty of people of average or above-average intelligence who (again despite all those neurons) get outsmarted every day by their cats and/or dogs. 

So go figure.

This all just goes to show that it's not how many neurons you have, it's what you do with them that counts.

Dog and Cat resting together_Adobe Stock


David Salisbury, “Sorry, Grumpy Cat—Study Finds Dogs Are Brainier Than Cats,” Research News @ Vanderbilt, November 29, 2017, https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2017/11/29/grumpy-cat-study-dogs/.

* The full article will appear soon in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.


  1. I know I'm smarter than my dogs, MOL!

  2. Way back, they filled the skulls of humans with beans, and counted the beans to classify the 'smartest' humans. That was a dead-wrong 'scientific' study, and any study like this is purely subjective. Cats are cats and dogs are dogs, and they aren't the same.

  3. And how smart are the people that spend a whole pile of money to supposedly figure these things out? :)

  4. I definitely agree with your last line. I also think cats are superior. :)

  5. Hmmmm....interesting...what I would like to know is what kind of pets (if any) the researchers have or have had and what they think of both. I bet that would make a whole bunch of difference!