The researchers discovered that dogs possess more neurons in their cerebral cortex, ostensibly allowing them a better capacity for thinking, planning, and complex behavior. Specifically, dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, while cats have about 250 million.
But Herculano Houzel hopes her research at Vanderbilt will inspire some animal behavioral psychologists to take up the challenge.
She noted that the dogs and cat used in the study had died of natural causes and their bodies were donated to science. Scientists have associated neuron density with overall cognitive ability - i.e. intelligence.
The study was carried out by counting a number of cortical neurons in eight carnivorans - that happen to be a large class of mammals having teeth and claws that allow them to eat other animals; they are not to be confused with carnivores that are exclusively meat-eating animals, including humans.
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.
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Let the cat vs dog battle rage on.
The study's findings mean that dogs may be able to do more complex things in their lives than cats can.
As Suzana, a self-proclaimed "100 percent dog person" claims, "At the least, we now have some biology that people can factor into their discussions about who's smarter, cats or dogs".
This was explained in the paper, saying: "Large carnivorans appear to be particularly vulnerable to metabolic constraints that impose a trade-off between body size and number of cortical neurons". And bears, despite their big brains, have about the same number of neurons as cats do.
"If you consider that neurons are the basic information processing units of brains, then whoever has the most neurons should also have the most information processing capabilities", says Herculano-Houzel, whose team is publishing an article in the open access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
"Raccoons are not your typical carnivoran", said Herculano-Houzel. "Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together-and we're trying to figure out what difference that makes".