Monday, October 20, 2014

Which Is Smarter -- Dog or Cat?

By Kate Collins

Nothing like starting a heated debate. Sorry. I couldn’t resist, especially because we're celebrating National Cat Month at the Cozy Chicks and because I read a fascinating article* on cat vs. dog intelligence. I’m betting that you feel one way or the other based on whether you’re a dog person or cat person. If you have both types of pet, you still may favor one over the other. We'll just see about that.

To be honest, because dogs and cats are two different species, it’s not really fair to compare them. According to Psychology Today: “Dogs are designed to be more efficient runners while cats have better ability at manipulating things with their paws. Thus a test that involved pulling strings or operating levers would tend to favor a cat, while a test involving moving from place to place, where speed is a measure of performance, would favor a dog.

If you judge by number of neurons in the brain, then cats win. They have 300 million neurons in their cerebral cortex, the area responsible for processing, problem solving and perception, while dogs have 160 million.

However, if you judge by  the “Encephalization Quotient” (EQ) a tool to compare intelligence and brain weight in relation to an animal’s body size, then dogs win because social animals (dogs) tend to have higher EQs than solitary animals (cats.) Because dogs have had to learn over time to interact with humans, they have had to develop more problem solving and communication skills.

The fact that dogs can sort objects into categories (demonstrating abstract thought) and can tell what people are thinking are indicators of their intelligence. Yet researchers have shown that cats can be trained to do similarly impressive feats, like distinguish between different quantities of objects and follow pointing gestures (like dogs).

Oxford University researchers believe that dogs are becoming progressively more intelligent because of the demands of humans, while cats have stayed mostly the same. “At the risk of starting another argument, these data may explain why we never hear about such things as a ‘seeing eye cat,’ ‘police cat’ or ‘search and rescue cat.’”

To be fair, however, they admit that it wasn’t easy to get the cats to display their talents. In the case of distinguishing between different quantities… this is an ability that fish also possess, and the researchers said it was far “easier to work with fish than cats.”  That made me laugh because it’s so true. Maybe cats have the same abilities but just aren’t in the right mood to display them. Ever.

Another interesting item: “The research also showed cats and dogs can solve simple puzzles to get food, but when the puzzle is unsolvable, dogs will look to humans for help, whereas cats will keep trying,” Isn’t that the truth?

Charles Darwin wraps up this discussion nicely:  ‘Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.’  Basically then, all species that stay healthy, remain numerous and avoid extinction are equally intelligent.

Does that end the debate?

*Dr. Becker’s Oct 17, 2014 newsletter (