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Which is Smarter: Dogs or Cats?

Updated on February 9, 2013

A tough question that I am curious about is whether dogs or cats are smarter. Not ever having a dog or a cat, I have no direct personal experience on this topic. So I must rely solely on search engines like Google. In a sense, it might turn out to be better that I do not have either dog or cat, as that way I will not be biased. I also have to be careful in not giving the "wrong" answer, as that may either offend either cat lovers or dog lovers.

But for those who need to know the answer of whether dogs or cats are smarter. Read on. I do not promise you that I have "the answer", as I am not a professional animal anthropologist. However, after multiple hours of research, I hate to come up empty-handed. So I do venture my opinion as to which is the more intelligence species later in the article.

Attempts at Answering Whether Dogs or Cats are Smarter

The questions of whether dogs or cats are smarter have been asked many times in the past and many people have attempted an answer.

In particular, Bruce had asked Cecil Adams way back in October 6, 1978. Who is Cecil Adams? He answers readers questions in newspaper columns and on the web. His answer as posted on his site starts off with ...

"This sounds like one of those couple arguments it could be dangerous to get caught in the middle of."[1]

Then he goes into the relative aspects of dogs and cats that makes each one seem smarter. But he concludes with ...

"My advice is, call it a draw and go argue about something else."[1]

By not answering the question, Cecil Adams is indeed a smart man. He even says so in his FAQ where he says ...

"Cecil Adams is the world's most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong."[source]

Here is another ambiguous answer to the question "Are dogs smarter than cats?" found on which says ...

"Tests so far are not capable of testing whether cats are smarter than dogs, and vise versa."[source]

It basically says, we don't know. Another good answer, but one that Cecil Adams was not able to use since he had published the fact that he knows everything.

Jennifer Copley took a different approach out of the argument.  She writes in her article "Which Are Smarter - Cats or Dogs?", based on Douglas's article "Dogs vs. Cats: The Great Pet Showdown” published in New Scientist, the following...

"Studies Suggest that Felines and Canines Have Similar Intelligence ... Various studies of cat and dog intelligence give felines the edge on some measures of intelligence and dogs the advantage on others."

That's good. Just praise the intelligence of both cats and dogs.

Difficult to Perform Lab Studies

Admittedly, it is very difficult to devise good experiments that tests the intelligences of dogs and cats. Afterall, it is difficult to get dogs or cats to perform logic problems. Even if you are able to devise an experiment and a dog performs the task successfully, but a cat does not. Does that prove anything? Perhaps the dog has a greater desire to please. Perhaps the cat can perform it too, but just doesn't want to.

However the few attempts at lab studies suggest that dogs perform better. Here's one reported by the that says ...

"They [cats] performed even worse than dogs, which can at least solve the parallel string task."

Behaviors of Dogs and Cats says ...

"Both dogs and cats can be trained to perform complex tasks in numerous ways, even potty-trained, but dogs are clearly more inclined to take orders from humans."[7]

Dogs has a desire to please which makes them more trainable. Perhaps that is why you see service dogs, but not service cats.

This is because in the evolution of the dog, the dog descended from the wolf via natural selection of traits that included tameness, train-ability, usefulness, and ability to co-habitate with humans. Although, cats too have been used in sailing vessels of the old ages for their hunting skills.

One difference between dogs and cats that many people notice is that dogs seem to be more sociable in their interactions with humans; whereas cats are more aloof and solitary.

Wolves are social animals that hunt and cooperate in packs. They have a social hierarchy where the alpha male is on top. To a certain extent, this trait is passed onto the dog. Although dogs no longer hunt. They are dependent on humans to feed them, or dependent on the availability of human leftover foods that they scavenge. Hence, dogs that are more sociable to humans and that are more able to please human will tend to be rewarded with food in return.

Some people may say that because of this seemingly more social behavior of dogs, it makes them smarter than cats. Others may say that cats get fed just as well as dogs, and they don't even have to work for it, thereby making them smarter.

Hence the saying: "Dogs have masters, cats have slaves".

And quotes such as ...

"Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow." [reference]

Brain Size of Cats and Dogs

What about brain size? Can that perhaps give us a clue as to an animal's intelligence?

According to table at, the average brain weight of cats is 30 grams; whereas the dog (beagle) is 72 grams.[2] - clearly making the dog brain the bigger brain. But is that really fair? Afterall, dogs are generally larger than cats.

And who says that bigger brain means greater intelligence. For example, the elephant brain is 4783 grams[2] (some even say 6000g[5]); whereas the human brain is 1300 grams. That does not mean that elephants are smarter than humans. They have bigger brains because they are simply larger animals that needs more brain cells to control more muscle fibers and to take in stimulus from larger areas of skin.

So let's compare the ratio of brain weight to body weight. According to some statistics. The ratio of brain weight to body weight for cat is 1/100 and for dog is 1/125.[3] In other words, the cat's brain make up 1% of its body weight. For dog, it is slightly less at 0.8%. So cats have bigger brains in relation to its body size.

For comparison, human brain make up 2% to 2.5% of its body weight. It turns out the mouse brain is also 2.5% of the mouse's weight. So does that mean that mice are as intelligent as human? I don't think so.

Clearly, attempts are figuring out intelligence by absolute brain weight or by brain weight in relation to body weight is unreliable. That is because the ratio of head to body size is not linear as animals get larger in size. In other words, as mammal animals increase in size, their heads naturally gets a smaller percentage of the body.

Encephalization Quotient as rough measure of intelligence

An more accurate measure is the encephalization quotient which

"is a measure of relative brain size defined as the ratio between actual brain mass and predicted brain mass for an animal of a given size, which is hypothesised to be a rough estimate of the intelligence of the animal."[4] - from Wikipedia

The encephalization quotient of some animals were listed in Wikipedia[4] as ...

humans = 7.4
bottlenose dolphin = 4.14
chimpanzee = 2.2
rhesus monkey = 2.1
whale = 1.8
elephant = 1.13
dog = 1.2
cat = 1.0
horse = 0.9
mouse = 0.5
rat = 0.4

Think of this number as the ratio of actual brain size of an animal compared to what the expected brain size would be for the animal of that size. So humans, with an encephalization quotient of 7.4, has a brain that is 7 times what would be expected for an animal our size. Clearly we have big brains. For cats, they are right on the mark with an encephalization quotient of 1.0. Their brain size is pretty much as expected for an animal their size. For dogs, they have just slightly larger brains than expected with an encephalization quotient of 1.2.

Looking at the table values of the encephalization factors, they appear to make intuitive sense based on our notion of animal intelligence. Humans came up on top as being smartest. Followed by dolphins, chips, monkeys, whales, elephants, dog, cat, horse, sheep, mouse, and rat in that order. This encephalization quotient as a rough measure of intelligence seems quite plausible. Based only on the encephalization quotient alone, it appears that dogs are smarter than cats.

Note that the difference in the intelligence of dogs and cats are very close in terms of the wide range of animal intelligence. So I'm sure the smartest cat is smarter than the dumbest dog. Afterall, these are just averages. And dogs is one of the most varied species in the animal kingdom.

Reports that Dogs Are Smarter than Cats

In November 2010, researchers in Oxford looked at brain evolution and come to conclude that the brains of more social animals (such as dogs) evolved larger at a faster rate than less social animals (such as cats). This concurs with the higher encephalization quotient of dogs.

The media took off with the story by saying dogs are smarter than cats because of that: gives an most convincing argument that dogs are smarter and goes further by saying that the intelligence gap between dogs and cats are widening.[5]

Just how smart are dogs?  According to LiveScience, they are as smart as the average two-year old child, with border collies considered the smartest breed of dogs, followed by poodles.[6]  Dogs demonstrates spatial problem-solving skills, and can exhibit simple emotions, and have a concept of arithmetic counting up to 4 or 5.

Conclusion as to whether dogs or cats are smarter

Based on the current evidence, it is my opinion that dogs are smarter than cats. I also admire the work that dogs do as guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, herding and hunting dogs, sled dogs, guard dogs, drug and food detection dog, and police dogs.

For the cat lovers, please do not be offended. As I'm sure your cat is still smarter than the dumbest dog. And no doubt virtually all cats are smarter than all mice and rats. I guess if we were debating the intelligence of mouse and rats though, then there would not be as strong opinions on either side. That is because mouse is not man's best friend. And we are not attached to rats as we are to our cats. By the way, mice are smarter than rats (just check the encephalization quotient above).


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