Are Dogs or Cats Smarter? The Real Answer is Actually Disturbing
The age-old question of which beloved animal is truly The Smartest has taken an unexpected turn, at least according to neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel.
In a new interview with PBS News Hour, Herculano-Houzel, who studies gray matter in cats, dogs, and other critters, says she has found dogs have twice as many neurons as cats. She knows this because she has literally counted them in various animals’ cerebral cortexes.
“Then the logical implication is that, yes, dogs are much more capable than cats,” Herculano-Houzel told PBS. The obvious caveat here is that humans — allegedly smart — have no idea what it actually means to be smart, since cats, dogs, and all animals have different strengths and skill sets.
That said, in Herculano-Houzel’s research published in Frontiers back in December 2017, raccoons might be the third-party victor in the unrelenting war between cats and dogs. As Inverse has previously reported, raccoons are evil geniuses who’ve learned to use their very low standards (i.e. eating trash) to their advantage.
“The very large number of neurons that we found in the raccoon cortex fits very nicely with the lore about raccoons,” Herculano-Houzel said. “It matches with how incredibly ingenious these little creatures are and how good at problem solving they are when it comes to finding food.”
Back in October 2017, wildlife biologist Imogene Cancellare told Inverse that if any species were to successfully overthrow humanity, it would definitely be raccoons.
“It’s basically a case of the trash panda army,” she said. “The main issue is that raccoons are a generalist species, meaning they can meet their resource needs in a variety of habitats. They’re also urban-adapted.”
In April, that “trash panda army” descended on the town of Youngstown, Ohio. Locals reported at least a dozen raccoon incidences of strange and aggressive raccoon behavior, which they described as “zombie-like.” It was ultimately determined that the raccoons were probably sick with an incurable virus called distemper.
Even in Herculano-Houzel’s research, raccoons were found to have a ratio of neurons to brain size similar to that of primates.
Maybe the question of “which animal is smartest” has no answer. There are a matrix of factors and skills that go into making that determination. For example, cats are better hunters than dogs, but dogs can understand more human commands than cats can — maybe. Sadly, there’s a large disparity between the number of scientists studying cats and dogs — there are many more dog scientists, which means there’s still a lot we don’t understand about so many of our furbabies.
All this said, the answer is clearly that raccoons are smartest, and they are hungry. Run.