Why can't Cats Taste Sweet Things? The Scientific Reason

By Alice Tapiol Breeze, AnimalWised Editor. January 2, 2018
Why can't Cats Taste Sweet Things? The Scientific Reason

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It's hard to resist a delicious ice cream or a nice piece of pie, isn't it? In fact, candy is a real temptation for many people. But what is delicious for us can be a threat to the health of our pets. Many sweet foods, mainly industrialized ones, can cause severe digestive disorders and poison their body.

In addition, some species, such as felines, are unable to taste and often reject the most sugary tastes. In this way, we can say that cats do not feel the sweet taste due to a self-defensive ability developed naturally by their organism during the evolution of their species. To learn more about the subject, AnimalWised invites you to better understand why can't cats taste sweet things through a scientific reason, explained clearly so we can fully understand.

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Cats: picky eaters?

We often hear that cats have a very selective palate. But if a wild cat were as capricious with their palate as we imagine a cat is, it would represent a risk to their survival. Their independent character and their abilities allow them to position themselves as excellent hunters, but their diet also depends on the availability offered by their environment, the season of the year, the climate, etc.

So, where does this "bad reputation" of domestic cats being picky with food come from? Well, the answer lies in the question itself... Most cats develop a more exclusive palate or capricious behaviors at the time of eating due to domestication. According to the journal of nutrition, cats can modify their taste in food according to their experience[1].This also explains why stray cats tend to have a more flexible palate than domestic cats. With these animals, something very similar happens to wild cats: their survival depends on their adaptive capacities to the context and environment to which they are exposed.

Why can't Cats Taste Sweet Things? The Scientific Reason - Cats: picky eaters?

Taste formation in cats

Cats form their taste criteria during their "infancy", mainly during their first 6 months of life. If during this time we present a varied diet in flavors, shapes, smells and textures, we favor their adaptation and reduce the possibility of refusing food in adulthood. If, on the contrary, we get our kitten used to always eating the same food, we will create a very demanding diner. When they reach adulthood, it will probably be very difficult to include other aromas and flavors in the diet of an animal that clung to a very strict food routine.

But we must be very careful with the changes that living with humans can cause in the eating habits of a feline. Cats do not perceive sweet flavors, but if we offer them sugary foods, we can create an unwanted adaptation and cause innumerable damage to their digestive tract.

What flavors can cats taste?

Felines have a much more privileged sense of smell and vision than ours. But when it comes to the sense of taste, cats have a much less developed sense of taste than humans. While our organism has more than 9000 taste bulbs, which allow us to enjoy an enormous variety of flavors, cats have less than 500 taste bulbs. This is the main reason why cats do not perceive the sweet taste and why many foods that seem irresistible to us may be uninteresting. Below, we summarize the main flavors perceived by our domestic felines:

  • Acidity: cats have a large number of acidic flavor receptors located throughout the entire length of their tongue. Therefore, acidic pH foods tend to please them more than alkaline or neutral foods.
  • Saltiness: felines also detect salty tastes very intensely, since they have enough receptors for this flavor in their tongue.
  • Bitterness: cats perceive bitter tastes less intensely than dogs and humans. As a result, they avoid intaking toxic substances such as strychnine.

Felines are also able to perceive texture very well, temperature and consistency of their food, which is why canned food is more palatable than dry feed for them.

Why can't Cats Taste Sweet Things? The Scientific Reason - What flavors can cats taste?

So why can't cats taste sweet things?

We detect sweets, because we have the combination of two proteins in our taste buds. On the other hand, cats do not perceive the sweet taste because they barely produce one of the two proteins needed to taste it. Certain studies point out that this is due to evolutionary reasons, as most felines have grown to have a uniquely carnivorous diet, thus sweet-free. Thus, the sweet receptor has slowly disappeared with the passage of time and has relaxed until it has become non existent [2].

Some felines may be interested in certain sweet foods with high fat content, such as ice cream, or protein sources, such as yogurts. But they strongly reject synthesized sweeteners such as saccharin and foods containing them. Specialists say that this natural rejection of sweets in felines consists of a self-defensive capacity. As sugary foods damage their body, causing flatulence, diarrhea and colic, their palate evolved to avoid the consumption of these substances.

If you see your cat eating a sweetened treat, especially chocolate, which is toxic to cats in large quantities, do not hesitate to immediately contact your vet.

If you want to read similar articles to Why can't Cats Taste Sweet Things? The Scientific Reason, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.


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