For better or worse, dogs will devour almost anything that crosses their path. The same can’t be said for most cats, who possess a more… particular palette.
Recent findings at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia might help explain why.
For animals, taste buds serve as more than just a way to tell whether something is good or reallyreallyreally good — they’re also an important survival tool for discerning between harmless and harmful food sources. Toxic plants or unripe fruits taste bitter, whereas nutritious, energy-fueling foods register as sweet. Research reveals that cats carry this bitter taste bud receptor, despite being carnivores who theoretically wouldn’t be eating plants.
So that must be why cats are such fussy eaters, right?
Well, not exactly. Dogs can detect bitter foods, too. They just don’t act as bitter as cats do. 🙂
So why do cats have bitter taste bud receptors after all these years of evolution and domestication? Researchers concluded there is likely more than one reason.
First, cats are exposed to bitter tastes when they consume prey that survive on plants, so those tastebuds aren’t for nothing. Secondly, cats’ receptors may be more sensitive than others mammals’ receptors, making them more selective about food based on taste.
Lastly, experts point to the possibility that cats’ taste buds may serve a similar purpose to those of humans, whose bitter receptors exist in our mouth, heart and lungs, and are believed to help identify infections. It’s possible, then, that cats’ taste buds perform this function, too, helping our feline frenemies fight off disease. So cats aren’t picky for nothing.
Another recent study on the subject does suggest that a cat’s bitter tastebud receptors are MORE sensitive than the tastebuds of other creatures, which may account for the fussy eating. Perhaps cats are more sensitive to bitterness than dogs despite the apparent lack of need for bitter taste buds.
Featured image via Cafe Choo