16 August 2021
Since the dawn of time, or at least since pet owners began debating the intellectual supremacy of their furry, little companions – we’ve wondered which is smarter, cats or dogs?
And it’s not just pet owners and casual internet debaters who have pondered this question. The science community has also put forth a lot of research on the topic.
Brian Hare, the founder and director of Duke University's Canine Cognition Center, phrased it like this in an interview with PBS: "Asking which species is smarter is like asking if a hammer is a better tool than a screwdriver.
"Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course it depends on the problem we are trying to solve."
With that in mind, scientists have been researching the cognitive abilities of both cats and dogs for years and have found some pretty intriguing insights.
As far as dogs are concerned, scientists have found that some pups outperform others when it comes to intelligence.
One dog, in particular, an American border collie, named Chaser has been dubbed as the “smartest dog in the world.” Chaser has been able to recognize and memorize an astounding 1,022 nouns – one for each of her many toys.
In Germany, another border collie, a male named Rico, practiced “fast-mapping,” or figuring out the names of newly introduced items with the speed and understanding of a three-year-old child. A few other border collies—as well as two Yorkshire terriers, showed talent of a similar calibre.
Dog brain VS. cat brain
Aside from these dogs who have harnessed their inner Einstein, scientists continue to dig deeper into the physical brains of both dogs and cats.
When analyzing cognitive function of cats and dogs, scientists use the same tests and parameters they use when gauging the same function in humans. This is measured by counting the neurons in the cortexes of the brain. The cerebral cortex of the brain is involved in many higher level processes, including thought, association and memory. To put things into perspective, the number of neurons in the average human cortex is 16 billion.
According to the findings of neurologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, the number of neurons in the tested dogs was between 429 million and 623 million, while the cat had 250 million.
Though cats don’t have an officially recognized prodigy among them, according to Leslie Lyons, a veterinarian specializing in cat genetics at the University of Missouri – a cat’s brain is very comparable to the human brain. Lyons says, “Other than primates, the cat-human comparison is one of the closest you can get,” in terms of genome organization.
This presents a unique opportunity for scientists to utilize cats to further research and understand human diseases. Deeper research into the brains of cats could help scientists understand the genetic dark matter of human genomes—that is, non-coding DNA that doesn’t provide instructions for making proteins yet still comprises some 95% of the human genome.
In the end, there is no concrete evidence to support which animal is the smartest. Dogs are better suited to obeying commands and remembering words, but cats possess a human-like brain that could push forward the boundaries of medical research. Either way, as Brian Hare said, "Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course it depends on the problem we are trying to solve." And the only problem your pets need to solve is how to be the loveable companion that you need them to be.
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