Researchers have studied the brain capacities of several carnivores to better understand the development of their abilities to hunt and to adapt to their environment. A study which therefore also concerned our favorite four-legged friends, and which in a way makes it possible to settle the ultimate question: which of the cat or the dog is the most intelligent animal in the house?
The Size Doesn’t Matter
How to measure the intelligence of animals? Initially, the researchers could have based their study on a ratio between the size of the brain and the size of the animal. For example, the big brown bear and the cat have a similar brain size, but the anatomical difference would suggest that the cat is smarter than its honey-eating friend.
But this criterion remains very approximate, and scientists quickly turned to another criterion making it possible to indicate in the previous example that the cat-like bear has cognitive capacities ultimately rather close because they have a similar neuronal concentration.
Cerebral Cortex gives the advantage to Dogs
To understand the development and capacities of the brain of carnivores, researchers looked at the concentration of neurons present in the brain (and more particularly in the cerebral cortex). From ferrets to mongooses, hyenas, and even lions, researchers have assumed that a greater number of neurons rhymes with more cognitive capacities.
An approach deemed effective by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in the United States: “The number of neurons an animal has determined the richness of their mental state and their ability to anticipate what may be happening around them. ‘them from their past experiences “.
Based on this principle, the researchers discovered that the dog has an average of 530 million neurons compared to 250 million for cats, a result which according to the study would indicate greater intelligence in the dog, closely behind in the ranking by our friend the raccoon.
A study full of surprises
So if the dog is smarter than the cat, what about their wild cousins? The majority opinion is that the brains of domestic animals are smaller. However, the study of American researchers shows the opposite. The brain of a golden retriever has many more neurons than a hyena.
Another surprise: the brains of carnivores are not better endowed with neurons than those of the herbivores on which they feed. Hunting, however, appears to be a more cognitively demanding activity than grazing. But the more neurons a brain contains, the more energy it becomes. And great hunters know it well, their diet can be extremely intermittent. What, think the American researchers, limit their brain development.
And if a palm is to be awarded, it is … the raccoon that it will return. “The raccoon brain appears relatively small. But the density of its neurons is equivalent to that of a primate ”, wonders Professor Herculano-Houzel.
What if intelligence also depends on the pet owners?
One might ask whether the number of neurons is enough to determine which of the dog or the cat is the most intelligent in practice. Maybe in the end it all comes down to the individual and the experience, because whatever the cognitive abilities, it’s what your animals do with them that will matter most, and interactions with the master weigh a lot in the balance. And if we are talking about intelligence, let’s not forget that there is not just one form of intelligence but eight!