An international research project has found that domestication does not benefit pets’ brains. A comparison of the skulls of several species of cats showed that the brain size of domestic cats is smaller than that of their African ancestors. The Royal Society Open Science journal published the results.
Pets Have Smaller Brains than Wild Animals
Human domestication of animals generally leads to a reduction in brain size. Animals thus lose some traits, such as threats. This fact has been demonstrated in dogs, sheep, and rabbits. In a new international study, scientists wondered if the same was valid for cats, first domesticated about 10,000 years ago.
They started by measuring the size of their brain capacity in many domestic cats. Then, they calculated how big the brain of the average domesticated cat was. Finally, according to the latest genetic analyses, they did the same for feral African cats, which are the ancestors of modern domestic cats.
Responses to Threats Are Disappearing
The results were clear: the brains of domesticated cats are much smaller than those of their ancestors. So the researchers also tried to determine if the smaller size of the cat’s brain is the result of domestication – by measuring in a mixture of domestic and wild cats. The brain size of these cats generally ranged between the size of this organ in domesticated cats and feral African cats.
But it’s not just the size of a cat’s brain that changes; some areas are changing more than others. Most cells disappear in the so-called area of the neural bar – these are the brain cells involved in the processing and responding to threats. It makes quite logical sense – domesticated animals usually face a much smaller number of threats than wildlife.
On the other side, a smaller brain does not equal less intelligence. For example, birds have a smaller brain than middle size mammals. But their thinking skills and abilities are on a high level in the animal kingdom.