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Who is smarter: Dogs or cats?

Smart dog plays with puzzle toy

The ongoing debate over whether dogs or cats are the smarter species has divided pet lovers throughout history. It turns out, however, that the answer to this is not as straightforward as dog and cat fans would like. So, is it possible to answer the question: who is smarter: dogs or cats? 

Table of contents 

Defining “smart” 

Intelligence is typically studied from a human-centric perspective. When it comes to dogs and cats, each species has been shaped by evolution to solve the problems most critical to its survival and reproduction. With this, some scientists conclude that we should avoid pitting different species against each other because they’re intelligent in different ways. There is no better animal at being a cat than a cat, and no one can be a dog quite as well as a dog. 

Brain power 

It is difficult to determine definitively which species is smarter, as intelligence can be measured and compared in many different ways. One metric commonly used to determine intellect is brain size and composition

When it comes to comparing the brains of dogs and cats, the cerebral cortex, the layer of the brain that controls functions such as problem-solving and decision-making, tends to have many more neurons in dogs than in cats. The cerebral cortex of the brain is involved in many higher-level processes, including thought, association and memory. Neurons are the basic information processing units. While dogs possess on average about 530 million neurons in the cortex, cats have only about 250 million— nearly half the amount found in dogs. 

The more neurons an animal has in its cerebral cortex, the more information it can process, and the richer its mental capabilities likely are. This means that dogs have the potential for more complex and flexible behavior than cats. However, a direct correlation between larger brain size and increased intelligence has not been conclusively proven. Regardless, dogs’ higher neuron count is often viewed as a gauge of their superior intelligence. 

How dog and cat intelligence differ 

So, in what ways are dogs and cats each smart? 

Dogs, for example, are highly social animals and have evolved to be highly attuned to the needs and behavior of their human companions. For this reason, they are often considered more intelligent than cats because they are more trainable and can learn commands and tricks more easily. They can be trained to perform a wide variety of tasks, including assisting people with disabilities, search and rescue, and law enforcement. Dogs are also highly skilled at learning and remembering commands, and they are known for their ability to form strong bonds with humans. 

Dogs and cats have been domesticated for millennia, and dogs have been keenly able to adapt to the ways of humans. Dogs are able to form strong social bonds with humans and are capable of interpreting our emotions. Our canine companions have been selectively bred for their ability to learn commands, which makes them smarter than cats when it comes to many human tasks. 

Cats, on the other hand, are solitary hunters and have evolved to be highly independent and self-sufficient. They are skilled at stalking and capturing prey, and they are known for their agility, coordination, and long-term memory. Cats are also highly curious and are known for their ability to learn through trial and error. 

Cats are also highly independent animals and are able to take care of themselves without the need for constant supervision. They are able to find food and shelter on their own and are known for their ability to entertain themselves when they are alone. Cats’ stereotype of being aloof and disinterested in humans is often interpreted as a lack of intelligence. However, this strong sense of independence is quite the opposite—whereas dogs have masters to obey, cats have staff who they can train to meet their needs. 

Don’t make generalizations 

Intelligence can vary widely within a species. Some dogs and cats are more intelligent than others, and individual animals can excel in different areas. For example, one dog may be particularly good at learning tricks and commands, while another may be better suited to interpreting humans’ emotions and body language. 

When it comes to dogs, there are simple, fun ways to get a better understanding of how sharp they are. Regardless of your dog’s intelligence level, the good news is that smarts have nothing to do with the loving relationship you have with each other and your pet’s overall happiness. In fact, having a smart dog comes with its own downsides. Embrace your pet’s strengths! 

What does breed have to do with it? 

Intelligence can also vary by breed, as different dog and cats breeds were traditionally used and trained for unique strengths and tasks. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, about 49% of a dog’s intelligence is based on environmental circumstances, while approximately 51% stems from their genes. 

Border Collies consistently rank very highly on lists of the world’s most intelligent dogs. On the other end of the spectrum, dogs often falling towards the bottom of intelligence lists include Bulldogs, Chow Chows, Mastiffs, Beagles, and Basset Hounds. 


Both dogs and cats are intelligent animals with unique strengths and abilities, and it is likely that the relative intelligence of the two species depends on the specific tasks and abilities being measured. Overall, it is not fair to compare the intelligence of dogs and cats, as they have evolved to be intelligent in different ways that are suited to their specific needs and environments.