Why Are Cats Much Picket Than Dogs? Science Provides the Answers

Hangai Lilla

2024. July 5 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

While most dogs are happy to eat almost anything you give them, cats are notoriously more finicky when it comes to food. Despite our limited understanding of animal taste preferences, recent research is shedding light on why cats might be so selective.


So let’s see why a cats can be picky!

What Tastes Do Cats Perceive?

We’ve previously discussed that cats are unable to detect sweetness because they lack a specific protein responsible for sweet taste perception. Therefore, if your cat shows interest in sweets, it’s likely for reasons other than the actual taste. So, what do cats truly enjoy?

Researchers have long suspected that these small predators’ carnivorous diet might be a clue. It’s believed that the umami taste, the rich, savory flavor often described as the “essence of deliciousness” by the Japanese, can be detected by cats just as it is by humans.

Recent findings have confirmed this hypothesis. Genome sequencing has revealed that cats possess the necessary genes to create umami receptors. In contrast, dogs can perceive both sweetness and umami. Both species have bitter taste receptors, with cats having 12 (seven functional) and dogs 15. The exact implications of these differences in receptor numbers on bitter taste perception are still unclear.

The Sensible Picketness of Cats

Taste perception helps animals assess potential food sources. Sweetness indicates a food rich in carbohydrates, a good energy source. Umami signals protein content, and saltiness indicates essential sodium. Sourness, more complex, might signal acidity, helping identify foods rich in Vitamin C or assess the safety of fermenting fruits, as “good” bacteria producing sourness can eliminate harmful bacteria during fermentation. Bitter taste is thought to indicate toxicity.

These taste perceptions are encoded in an animal’s DNA. Specific genes are responsible for creating different types of taste receptors on their taste buds. Sometimes, these genes mutate randomly. If the animal survives with the mutation, it passes this trait to its offspring, eventually becoming the norm. This evolutionary process explains why carnivorous cats cannot taste sweetness, bamboo-eating pandas can’t taste umami, and some marine mammals, like dolphins and whales, lack functional taste receptor genes altogether.

The dietary habits of cats and dogs also provide context for their taste differences. Cats derive all necessary nutrients from animal meat, whereas dogs can exploit a broader range of available food sources, minimizing their dietary risks. 

For picky cats, offering foods and treats rich in umami, such as tuna, can be rewarding

Solutions for Picky Cats

Understanding that our pets perceive the world differently from us is crucial for any pet owner. For example, if your cat loses its appetite due to illness, providing umami-rich foods can be beneficial. Tuna is an excellent example. Yasuka Toda, a Japanese food researcher, sprinkled bonito flakes (dried tuna flakes) over the food given to cats in a study, and it proved effective.

Research into cats’ taste perception is vital for developing tastier foods tailored to their preferences and creating flavorful medications that make administration less of a struggle.

cat feeding Feeding feeding the cat sweet taste tuna why

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