Researchers found that raccoons were an outlier - they have the brain size of a cat, but packs the same number of neurons as a dog.
The findings show that while dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons, cats have 250 million. Despite the larger animals having brains up to three times the size of a golden retriever, the scientists discovered the dog had more neurons. Neurons are cells linked to planning, thinking and complex behaviors and are therefore strongly tied to intelligence, the newspaper reported.
She says the higher the number of neurons an animal has, the greater their ability to, in her words, "predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience".
The study, first of its kind, according to the university, centered around counting the number of cortical neurons in the brains of several carnivores from ferrets and raccoons to cats, dogs, lions and brown bears.
In order to reach the findings, the researchers - Suzana Herculano-Houzel, an associate professor of psychology and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University and her team - evaluated the neuronal density and brain sizes of various carnivorans, a class of mammals that includes many predators - along with some omnivores and and a few herbivores.
They expected that their measurements would confirm the intuitive hypothesis that the brains of carnivores should have more cortical neurons than the herbivores they prey upon. The bear is an extreme example.
"I would bet money on a large dog over a cat any time", Herculano-Houzel said. It also needs energy continuously.
The study also found that even though raccoons have brains the size of cats - they have the same number of neurons as a dog. But researchers still can't be sure whether dogs are using that capability to its full potential.
Herculano-Houzel is an admitted dog person. "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".
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