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Dogs and cats have a keen sense of smell, way more performing than human’s, but on the other hand, their sense of taste is less well developped. Nevertheless, they use it for:
- testing the palatability of offered food, refusing some,
- stimulating the salivary, gastric and pancreatic secretions.

Gustative receptors

These receptors or “ taste buds ”, are included in the gustatory papilla. They are located on the upper face of the tongue, the mucosa of the palate, the epiglottis and the pharynx. The dog has got more taste buds than the cat.

Species Number of taste buds Cat 473 Dog 1706 Man 9000 Pig 15000 Goat 15000 Calf 25000 >From Leibetseder (1978)

These receptors are functional from the birth, but they require a few weeks to get completely mature. The keenness of taste would then go down in older animals. Some diseases (diabetes, hypothyroidism…), special drugs administration, change the gustative sensitivity.

These nervous cells are connected to the brain. Then, gustative sensations can be registered: according that a food is ranked as a “ good one ” or a “ bad one ” when first ingested, it will be either accepted or refused later.

The role of the experience

The maternal food influences the composition of the amniotic liquid, and of the milk consumed by puppies or kittens. It is the first step on the way of taste development. After birth, conditioning influences the dietary preferences, but dogs and cats stay attracted towards something new. If the new food proposed is more palatable than the former one, it has great chances to be easily adopted. It is the “ neophilia ” phenomenon. The opposite, or “ neophobia ”, is much more unusual. The refusal of a new food, even palatable, happens mainly in a stressful situation (i.e: brutal change of the diet and of the environment).

If a cat was sick following the ingestion of a toxic product, he learns to avoid it in the future. This aversion behaviour remains during several weeks. A dog forgets way more quickly: 24 hours later, he is able to consume it again.

Special preferences

Dogs and especially cats are very sensitive to the bitter taste: they dislike it very much. For example, they clearly reject food containing artificial sweeteners which have a slight bitter taste (like saccharine).
Of course, the sense of taste varies according to the individuals, but dogs and cats present a certain number of basic differences.

Dog’s preferences

A dog is able to show a preference for a meaty diet rather than a meatless one, even if he is deprived of the smell sense. But he cannot make a difference between species (beef, pork, poultry…), without the help of the smell. The dog appreciates a high-fat diet, providing the fat are of good quality: rancid fats induce food refusal.

The dog is more able than the cat to appreciate a sweety taste: this aptitude may have been developped when he was an occasional fruits consumer. He also detects the presence of salt at a lower concentration than the cat does.

Cat’s preferences

The cat, strict carnivorous, is very sensitive to the presence of some amino-acids associated with animal proteins. On the contrary, it is false to say that all cats prefer fish to meat. This preference varies a lot with the individuals.

The cat has his own classification for testing fats according to the length of fatty acids chains. For example, he rejects the middle-chain fatty acids contained in some vegetable oils (coprah, palmiste).

The cat pays a great attention to the texture and the granulometry of the kibbles: he hates the very small particles.


To decide of their food uptake, dogs and cats use taste and smell in association. They have marked preferences towards products from animal origin, so it explains that most of the digests and aromas used in petfood industry are processed from animal ingredients.

Donated by the Borg Cardona and Co. Ltd. visit Borg Cardona website

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