Do animals think – or are they driven only by instinct? It’s a critical issue to the Animal Protection Movement, and it’s not something you should take lightly, says Steve Davis, an animal science professor at Oregon State University.

“The smarter we think animals are, the more humanely we care for them,” Davis contends. At an American Society of Animal Science meeting, he reported results of a survey asking whether animals have minds and think.

Davis and colleagues questioned faculty, graduate students and staff from several university departments, including animal science, veterinary medicine, English and philosophy. They found 80 percent of the respondents believe animals do think.

Davis didn’t ask them to compare animal intelligence to human intelligence, but rather sought perceptions about relative intelligence of eight domesticated species.

Those surveyed ranked the eight species, with 1 being the highest in intelligence and 5 being lowest. The results from smartest to least: dogs 2.1, cats 2.3, pigs 2.6, horses 2.6, cows 3.2, sheep 3.5, chickens 4 and turkeys 4.

A clear division between the first four and the last four species is key because of those in the top four, only pigs are raised for food. That presents the question of whether the more-intelligent pig should be treated differently than, say, a chicken.

Davis agrees with evolutionist Charles Darwin that animal minds differ from human minds only in degree, not in kind. “I disagree with scientists who endorse Darwin’s theory of evolution but don’t support his idea that animals are evolving physically and mentally.”

It’s a critical question because animal-rights activists will use the concept of an evolving creature as an argument against raising them for food.

Animal agriculture needs to heed such perceptions, Davis warns. He says most people likely will say animals should continue to be used as food, but only if they are treated according to their intelligence. Confinement systems may fly in the face of that rationale.

“Animal scientists can no longer avoid the issue of animal rights and animal welfare,” Davis concludes. “We have to be part of the solution.”