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November 29, 2017

Dogs are definitely brainier than cats, new study suggests

Depending on how you look at it, new research may have just helped tip the scales on an old argument between dog and cat lovers everywhere.

Simply put, dogs are brainier than cats. At least, that's how researcher Suzana Herculano-Houzel sees it.

Herculano-Houzel and other researchers with Vanderbilt University found that the number of cortical neurons – small grey cells associated with intelligence – are far greater in the brains of dogs than those of cats. Dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million, they said, noting that the human brain has some 16 billion.

"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,” Herculano-Houzel said in a statement.

The associate professor of psychology and biological sciences did make a notable confession in her statement.

“I’m 100 percent a dog person,” she said in a Vanderbilt press release, which included a picture of Herculano-Houzel with her dog Mielina for good measure.

But all loyalties aside, she said, the findings show that dogs have the biological capability of carrying out more complex thoughts and actions than cats.

"At the least, we now have some biology that people can factor into their discussions about who’s smarter, cats or dogs," she stated.

In a video posted to Vanderbilt's YouTube account, Herculano-Houzel said dogs can do far more complex things with their lives than cats can.

"I would bet money on a large dog over a cat any time," she said. "How many neurons you have in your cerebral cortex, I believe, is a major determinant of your biological capabilities."

But there is a catch that some of us humans can certainly relate to.

"What you even do with what you have, that depends on how hard you even try," she said.

As it so often does, research has given us some contradicting conclusions on the topic.

Earlier this year, for example, scientists in Japan found cats to be just as capable as dogs at various memory tests, suggesting that dogs and cats were about equally clever. In terms of memory, research has also suggested that cats remember things in the short term for far longer than dogs do.

This latest take on the debate was part of a broader comparison of brain sizes and brain power in eight species of carnivores, including dogs and cats. The study was published in the open access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.