Study finds dogs smarter than cats

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A new study gives dog owners solid scientific evidence that dogs really are smarter than cats. To get as precise a measurement as possible, she starts by counting neurons, a special type of nerve cell found in the brain that transmits messages.

"Neurons are the basic information processing units", said Herculano-Houzel.

"It is fair to say, then, that dogs have about twice as many neurons as cats in their cerebral cortex", she said.

The cortex is the largest layer of the brain and is associated with a range of complex behavioural characteristics.

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This is what they found when they looked at cats' and dogs' cerebral cortex, the information-processing part of the brain: A cat's cerebral cortex has 250 million neurons. Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together.

One of the key questions the study hoped to answer was whether carnivores have more brain neurons than the herbivorous species they prey upon, with the researchers hypothesising that they should because hunting is cognitively more demanding.

It's a pretty significant difference, this study did not prove the fact that the more neurons, more brain.

To get an idea of how many neurons dogs and cats might typically have, the team used three brains-one from a cat, one from a golden retriever, and one from a mixed-breed small dog.

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The good news for cat lovers is that cats have about the same number of those neurons as bears even though a bear's brain is about ten times larger. Though Herculano-Houzel notes they also have higher-than-typical neuron counts in their cerebellums, the part of the brain that controls motor skills.

Previous and sometimes controversial work to quantify intelligence has measured brain size and structural complexity.

'They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate ... and that's a lot of neurons'.

Vanderbilt University associate professor of psychology and biological sciences, Suzana Herculano-Houzel explains the study focused on comparing different species of carnivorans to see how the number of neurons in their brains relates to the size of their brains.

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Meanwhile raccoons, with roughly cat-sized brains, were found to possess a similar number of neurons as dogs.

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