Sunday, October 15, 2023

Are cats smarter than dogs? A common question but difficult to answer.

People like to ask whether cats are smarter than dogs or vice versa; a topic of debate on the Internet and has been for many years.

The answer depends upon how you measure intelligence as both cats and dogs are intelligent but arguably, they possess different types of cognitive strengths and abilities. This is because dogs have been domesticated for about twice as long as cats (for around 20k years for dogs) and secondly dogs have a background of being working animals, serving their human owner whereas initially cats were working cats employed as rodent killers but nowadays they are companions and entertainers to their human caregiver.

So, these animal species have different purposes in life. This affects their skills and how you measure those skills and therefore how you measure intelligence. Cats are known for their independence and problem-solving skills. They are great hunters with great predatory instincts. They can learn from observation and can manipulate their environment. They often learn from their human caregiver such as when opening internal doors or the fridge door.

A cat's senses are incredible. It is thought that they are sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field which guides them home if they been removed from their home by their owner who is moving to a new home. You may have read the stories of cats going home after their owner has moved. My cat did that actually. This is because cats are attached to their home range - their territory - arguably more than they are attached to their human caregiver!

But we don't read stories of dogs finding their way home on their own using the Earth's magnetic field. That said, dogs are highly social animals and they excel in areas such as social intelligence, they are known for their emotional understanding and their ability to cooperate with humans. They seek guidance from their human caregiver as the alpha dog in the pack.

So, dogs and cats are different in terms of the development of their cognitive abilities due to many thousands of years of domestication and this makes it very difficult to compare intelligence. Essentially, they have evolved different cognitive abilities to suit their respective lifestyles and relationships with people.

Dogs are easier to train because they are pack animals and they look to their owner for guidance whereas cats are more independent as mentioned. But cats can be trained and they develop strong bond with their owners.

And there will be variations between individual animals. Some cats will be smarter than others and some dogs likewise. It is perhaps difficult and unwise to generalise and it is also tricky to compare cat and dog intelligence.


Having studied this aspect of cats and dogs for about 15 years, and read studies, I cannot put my finger on a definitive answer to the question. In the human world, and against my best instincts, I would probably lean towards dogs as being slightly more intelligent than cats but mainly because they are better at relating to humans due to their longer domestication as a species and the fact that they are pack animals.

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