Steve Dale, CABC, trained
a cat named Ricky in the
late 1990s to play a toy
piano, which he took for
recitals at pet stores and
shelter events. Ricky knew
how to jump through a hoop, over dogs lying
down, could “sit” when asked, and give a high
four — as well as many other behaviors. The
intent of appearing on all those TV programs
with Ricky was to demonstrate how smart,
and even outgoing, cats can be. Steve is host
of several pet radio shows; he’s the author of
the e-book Good Cat! and is on the Board of
the Winn Feline Foundation.
Comparative Neurology states that
cats are self-centered beings with no
empathy for others. They can learn
only with negative stimuli and have
far more limited capacity to learn
compared to dogs.
Today, we know that cat brains
account for about 0.9 percent of
their body mass. The average dog
brain is about 1. 2 percent. While
some scientists argue that brain size
matters, most say it only offers a clue
It turns out that brain organization
matters most. A study published in
Proceedings of the Royal Society B in
2013 suggested that massive increases
in the brain’s prefrontal cortex played
a critical role in ape evolution.
Over evolutionary time, several
key brain regions increased in size
relative to other regions. Great apes
(especially humans) saw a rise in
white matter in the prefrontal cortex,
the area of the brain most associated
with intelligence and responsible
for information processing, planning,
introspection, and more. Cats have
300 million neurons compared with
dogs’ 160 million neurons to fire signals from the prefrontal cortex.
When it comes to learning, most
tests demonstrate that cats are about
equal to dogs. The big difference is
that if a dog is stumped, he’ll likely
look to his humans for guidance or
even to do the job for him, whereas
cats will keep trying independently.
And at a point, sooner than most
dogs, cats will quit trying.
This doesn’t prove that dogs are
more clever, just that they have the
advantage of evolving with humans
and being domesticated thousands of
years earlier than cats. It could also be
that cats are less patient.
Cats hunt for themselves. It’s how
they were first domesticated, to keep
vermin away from stored grain. Their
hunting just happens to benefit us.
Some experts contend that social
animals are smarter, as they need to
communicate with one another, and
this is correlated to intelligence. In
recent years experts reconsidered
cats as a social animal; they were
always thought of as independent
and, therefore, solitary and less intelli-
gent based on lifestyle. However, cats
outside — given their own choices —
nearly always live in colonies.
Unlike their distant wild cousins,
domestic animals don’t hunt cooperatively. It’s a strike against their
brains, some say, as it takes a more
developed brain to organize a hunt.
Others argue that to hunt alone
requires more planning (remember
that’s a part of thought that occurs in
the important prefrontal cortex), and
the combined intelligence of a team
doesn’t exist — it’s up to one cat to
get it done.
Are dogs selfless and cats self-
ish? When asked this question, John
Bradshaw, author of Cat Sense: How
the New Feline Science Can Make
You a Better Friend to Your Pet,
laughed and answered, “Dogs attend
to us all the time. Dogs can’t be eas-
ily trained to be independent. Dogs
typically choose to focus on the per-
son and not the task. Cats are about
the task — and arguably that requires
Brian Hare, founder of the Duke
Canine Cognition Center, and co-
author of The Genius of Dogs, said,
“Cognition is recognition that there
are different types of intelligence.
And that is as true for dogs as it is
for cats as it is for people. You can
be amazing at math and horrible at
English. The individual differences are
significant.” Though he conceded that
cats are wired differently than dogs.
What’s important isn’t how smart
your cat is. After all, you don’t need
him to do your taxes. What matters
is the relationship and the bond we
share. But let’s face it: Cats are smarter than many give them credit for.