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Simple sugars taste sweet because we need them (or at least we did before we learned how to artificially produce them in abundance). That’s why most mammals experience the taste of sugar as pleasant, but house cats and other felines are indifferent to sweets. Cat owners may claim that their beloved pets love ice cream and doughnuts, but it’s the fat that cats enjoy.
Felines’ taste receptors can’t detect sugar. Humans, like most other mammals, have five different receptors—salty, bitter, sour, umami (savory), and sweet. The taste receptor for sweet is encoded in two genes that code for two proteins, both of which are involved in our ability to enjoy sugary treats.
In cats, a chance mutation appears to have broken one of these genes, and this broken version persisted. That’s why tigers, lions, and your kitty will never have a sweet tooth. To her, the satiating tastes are the umami of meat and the saltiness of blood.
People who own cats, or perhaps we should say people who are owned by cats, know that their pets do not always share their taste in food, and now researchers think they know why. Cats and possibly other carnivores simply cannot taste things the way that most species do. NPR’s Richard Knox reports that this opens a window on what the sense of taste is for.
Pitty the poor feline. Scientists have discovered that cats are on a lifelong Atkins diet. Not only do they not eat carbohydrates, they can’t even taste sweet things. That includes big cats…
Molecular cloning of cat Tas1r3 and Tas1r2
We identified 2 receptor genes, Tas1r3 and Tas1r2, in domestic cats by screening a feline genomic BAC library and performing PCR with degenerate primers on cat genomic DNA. Using the same strategy as for the canine genomic BAC library, we also identified the same 2 genes from dogs.
The cat Tas1r3 gene shows high similarity with those of dogs, humans, mice and rats at both the cDNA (from 74 to 87%) and deduced amino acid level (from 72 to 85%). To confirm the exon-intron boundaries for cat Tas1r3, we performed both RT-PCR on cDNA from cat taste bud-containing circumvallate and fungiform papillae and PCR on cat genomic DNA using intron spanning primers, and compared the cDNA sequence with the genomic sequence (data not shown). Both the cat Tas1r3 and dog Tas1r3 genes are composed of 6 similarly sized exons and 5 introns (Fig. 1a). There was nothing within the cat Tas1r3 gene that would suggest that the cat gene was defective compared with that of the dog.
What can cats taste
Cats do have a sense of taste, but it’s significantly different from ours. Let’s talk about your cat’s sense of taste and what makes it unique.
Like people, cats have five main senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.
Of the cat senses, a cat’s hearing is the most powerful. Cats also have a great sense of smell. A cat’s sense of sight is mighty too, especially their peripheral eyesight (capacity to see to the sides) and ability to see movement. Lower down on the list of senses is touch, although cat’s whiskers and even their paw pads are incredibly sensitive.
Finally, we have the sense of taste.
A cat’s sense of taste is quite different from a dog’s and even a human’s. Read on to find the answers to some commonly asked questions about cats and taste.
Do Cats Have Taste Buds?
Yes. Cats do have taste buds, although they have far fewer than dogs and humans do. However, cats and dogs have an extra scenting organ that people do not.
The Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ is a structure located in the roof of the mouth that detects chemicals in the environment through ducts in the mouth and nose.
You may have noticed your cat pop open his mouth and curl back his upper lip a bit when smelling something particularly interesting. This is called the flehmen response; your cat is using his tongue to direct the scent into the vomeronasal organ.
The flehmen response and Jacobson’s organ helps cats to analyze interesting smells in their environment, especially pheromones (chemicals produced by other animals).
How Many Taste Buds Do Cats Have?
A cat has about 400 taste buds, while a dog has about 1,700. Humans can have as many as 8,000 taste buds.
What Taste Can Cats Not Detect?
Cats have different receptors for taste than people do. Domestic cats cannot taste sweet flavors. However, cats can taste something humans cannot: adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a compound found in meat. This comes in handy since cats are obligate carnivores (their main diet is comprised of meat).
What Tastes Can Cats Detect?
Cats can taste salty, sour, bitter, umami (savory or meaty) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Can Cats Taste Sweet?
Nope! Unlike dogs and humans, cats do not have the taste receptor needed to detect sweet flavors (the TAS1R2 gene). Scientists hypothesize that cats do not need to taste sweet things because their diet is primarily meat.
If cats lack a sweet tooth, why do some cats enjoy a lick of ice cream? It’s likely the cat is drawn to the fat content of ice cream rather than the sweet taste.
Can Cats Taste Bitter?
Yes. Cats have almost as many bitter taste receptors as dogs (cats have 12 and dogs have 15). It is believed that cats can taste bitter to prevent them from nibbling on poisonous plants.
Can Cats Taste Sour?
Yes. Like a cat’s ability to taste bitter, the ability to taste sour likely stops cats from eating toxic things.
Can Cats Taste Spicy?
Yes, however “spicy” is not technically one of the main tastes for either cats or humans. Capsaicin, which is found in many spicy foods, produces a burning sensation in the mouth, lending spicy foods their hot “flavor.” Cats do not like spicy food, and it’s not good for cats, so stick to cat food.
In conclusion, cats definitely do have a sense of taste—one that’s well-adapted to their dietary needs.
While cats have fewer taste buds than do humans and they can’t detect sweet tastes, cats experience flavor in a unique way that shows clear evidence of their carnivorous nature.
With taste receptors that detect umami and ATP from meat and help them to avoid sour or bitter foods that might cause harm, your cat’s sense of taste is well-suited to his lifestyle as a predatory carnivore.
Can cats smell sweet things
That Old Familiar Smell
Cats don’t really know each other (or us) by sight; it’s more scent and sound. So unfamiliar smells—for instance, if you put on new body lotion—can trick a cat into thinking she doesn’t know you. That can also happen among a group of cats if one goes to the veterinarian and comes back smelling unfamiliar.
Cats may also mingle their scent with yours to comfort themselves when they’re stressed. That’s cute when they sleep on your sweater but not so cute when they pee on it. It’s important to remember, though, scent marking is a way cats make something more familiar.
Smell and Taste
Cats need to smell what they eat, which is why many of them won’t eat canned cat food straight out of the refrigerator. And they need to like what they smell, which is why many will not eat food that has been sitting out for a long time. Their wild ancestors ate meat that was still warm, and they could smell the delicate fragrance of a freshly killed mouse.
Formulating for Smell
When it comes to pet food, specific ingredients give the foodstuff its aroma. In fact, several ingredients in pet food formulation not only provide great nutrition but are also used because of their enticing aroma.
Wet foods in particular retain their aroma well due to their water content. However, manufacturers should be sure that the aroma or palatant they pick for their wet food formulation can stand up to the high temperatures of sterilization during packaging.
Kibble and dry treats, on the other hand, do not retain their aromatic qualities as well because they have been dehydrated, decreasing their ability to release aromatic fragrances as easily.
So, for dry foods, manufacturers can spray the outside of the kibble with ingredients that provide an appealing scent, such as fats, fermented yeasts, powder and liquid proteins, or meat- and organ-based liquids.