Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Who is smarter, dogs or cats??
In this episode:
Pet Joke of the Week: The cat and the husband
Heroic 9/11 rescue dog cloned
Personal comment: Who is smarter, dogs or cats?
Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM: Who is smarter, dogs or cats??
In my personal comment tonight, I will answer the age old question of which species is smarter, dogs or cats, as well as tell you exactly how it is that we know the answer. But first, seeking to get an idea of which species people generally think are smarter, I went to PetCo in Viera, Florida to ask patrons of the store what they thought. Here is what I found out.
(See video for PetCo footage)
Interesting view points and I thank all that participated in our survey, but it does seem that people opine in favor of dogs being smarter - and they are right.
Sorry cat people, but it is true, and here is how we know that dogs are the more intelligent species. Cats operate more through instinct and fight or flight response when it comes to hunting and survival, whereas dogs and their ancient ancestors. wolves, rely more on social interaction and coordination. For example, wild dogs and wolves will make distress calls to other pack members when injured or in danger, alert the pack of approaching danger, and formulate complex hunting strategies with pack members when taking down prey that is larger than themselves. They form a cohesive, productive, and functional group by establishing a social hierarchy among one another, with the alpha as leader, all the way down to the lowest ranking member, the omega. This level of social interaction and pack coordination requires a significantly higher degree of intelligence than simply hunting and surviving solitarily and through instinct and stress hormones.
Some erroneously mistake instinct for higher intelligence which would make cats perhaps seem more intelligent in comparison to other species, given their cautious nature, adept innate hunting and self grooming ability. But if one considers that waterfowl, known to be very low on the intelligence scale, still instinctively know to fly south for the winter among many other instinctual skill sets, one can clearly see that instinct and intelligence are not the same.
Being primarily stress driven in animals is actually a prevalent sign of a lower level of intelligence. Stress driven, means that the general survival of the animal depends primarily on its tendency to react in a fight or flight mode in response to even minimal stimulus. In other words, they spook very easily. Cats are so stress driven that moderate elevations in their white blood cell count and of their blood sugar on routine blood work is considered normal, as these are physical consequences of stress generated merely from the trip to the clinic and the office visit. I have actually had to hospitalize cats and place feeding tubes on many occasions because of illness brought on by a sudden stoppage of eating, attributable only to changes in the home, such as new furniture, new pets, construction, and even one time, a big painting hung in the living room. It is hard for most of us to imagine any level of stress that would lead us to literally begin starving ourselves to death, yet it is not surprising when this happens to a feline. These are phenomena we do not really see in dogs, because they are not nearly as driven by stress, their higher intelligence enabling them to rely more on pack interaction and coordinated strategy for survival and contentment.
That said, this does not necessarily make dogs better pets than cats, depending on what you seek in a pet. Being innately solitary by nature, cats are not as needy as dogs, can be left at home alone for longer periods of time, and are generally lower maintenance. I will always have cats because being driven by instinct and stress, having a cat in the home to me is akin to having a tame wild animal in the house that you can pet and snuggle with - yet that wild nature is never too far off to see, as they slink around the house, stalk and pounce on the dog's tail, and meticulously groom after a meal. There is no doubt, they are cool in their own way. They may not catch a Frisbee, fetch a ball, swim in the pool, retrieve a duck, or go jogging with you, but they are quirky, entertaining, and affectionate creatures that make a fulfilling pet, just in a different manner than dogs do. I choose to not choose between having dogs versus cats, and elect to have both, giving me the best of both worlds.
So back to the cat people, while you may be dismayed by this information, please do not mistake this post for being some kind of critique against cats, when in fact this is quite the opposite. This is actually a defense of cats for those who dislike them because of all the reasons they are not like dogs, not as trainable, don't come when they're called, are a bit more aloof, etc. They are not that way because they are dismissive or by nature disrespectful; they are that way because their intelligence and stress driven survival nature imposes these limits on them. If anything, given their innate wild and solitary nature, we should applaud this species that can adapt themselves to readily cohabitate with people and thrive in our homes. If you do not find that remarkable, try keeping a raccoon as a pet and you may begin to understand - that is, of course, if you live through it.
Next week's personal comment - Dental disease: far more than just bad breath!
Don't forget to catch my live broadcast this Sunday 7:30 PM EST at blogtv.com, where I will address comments posted on this blog installment!
Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website Web-DVM.net.