An global team of researchers took her work and ran with it to compare the brain size and number of neurons in a wide range of animals, including household favorites like cats and dogs, as well as bears, hyenas, lions and raccoons.
They found that dogs have many more neurons in the cerebral cortex than cats do.
Suzana Herculano-Houzel, associate professor of psychology and biological sciences, developed the method of accurately measuring the number of neurons in the brains.
The study looked at eight species of carnivores, including cats, dogs, ferrets, mongooses, raccoons, hyenas, lions and brown bears. The research team not only counted the neurons of these animals but their brain size and body-to-brain size ratios. Another oddity is the bear - its brain is about 10 times larger than a cats, but has a similar amount of neurons.
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"We do know that there is variation across individuals, but that's really not an issue when we're comparing species that vary so markedly in brain size or numbers of neurons", she said. It also needs energy continuously.
Carnivorans are a diverse group of mammals that includes carnivorous, omnivorous and herbivorous, domesticated and wild species, with a large range of brain sizes. Since the scientists believe the number of these neurons helps to determine cognitive capabilities, that means Fido might be brighter than Fluffy.
"One reason why dogs may have more neurons in their brains than cats may be because they are social animals", she said. "They have a fairly small brain but they have as many neurons as you would expect to find in a primate ... and that's a lot of neurons".
"Diversity is enormous", said 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".