Five Things You Didn’t Know about Your Cat’s Sense of Taste

cats with taste buds

Refined; not your cat. He’ll happily lap up anything that’s not physically attached to the floor, a plate or even a bowl and make it his own. He loves to chew on the lizards he catches on the porch and he’s pretty good about licking up anything your kids throw on the floor from their high chairs, and most of that has already been chewed (or at least thrown down with hands that have been picking boogers or reaching inside dirty diapers). Your cat is not refined – nope; no way.

Except, he actually is a little bit more refined than you might think. According to a new survey that was reported by cathealth.com, your cat has a very refined sense of taste that borders on specific. He might not have nearly as many taste buds in his mouth as we have in ours, but that does not mean your cat doesn’t know a good meal from a cheap one, or when you’ve been shopping at a store that does not sell the right kind of food he prefers. Maybe you care, and maybe you don’t; but there are some very interesting facts that have to do with the taste buds in the mouths of your cats, and they’re very specific. Read on to find out more than you ever wanted to know about your cat’s taste buds and what they mean for you in your life.

Cats Know Bitter Flavors

All cats have 12 little receptors on their tongues that are referred to as bitter preceptors. What this does is tell a cat when he or she is consuming something that is bitter, and seven of those are very active so your cat is well aware when you are trying to pass off something bitter as yummy and delicious. For many years, scientists did not know that cats had this type of receptor in its mouth since it tends to eat other animals in the wild (there’s something you might not ever have wanted to think about) rather than plants. Most animals with this receptor in their mouth have it so that they don’t accidentally indulge in a little leafy green that might not be healthy for their bodies. However, cats do have this sense of taste, and that’s a little-known fact. Whether this is a receptor that means anything in the wild is relatively unknown to us, but it does sound interesting.

Bitter Buds Save Cats

We just talked about the fact that your cat has something called a bitter receptor (12, and 7 work well, to be precise) and it’s for a reason. No, cats aren’t into trying new foods from all over the world that might require them to open up their palette and really enjoy, but they are animals that have to keep themselves protected somehow. What these taste buds do for cats is keep them alive. When a cat is given the opportunity to make another, smaller animal a snack, these taste buds go into overdrive. When they start sending off bitter alarms to this cat’s brain, it tells the cat that this is a creature that is not good – it protects the cat from eating anything that’s poisonous and potentially deadly. That’s a nice bit of warning to have when you’re having a snack that consists of a previously live animal. You don’t want it to get the last laugh in death.

Your Cat Does not Crave Ice Cream

Let’s get this straight; we have to suffer every single day of our lives dying to eat something sweet and amazing even though it’s going to make us feel sluggish, gross and really bad at eating healthy and cats don’t even have to deal with this? They already get to nap all day long and can go anywhere they want without pants on without offending anyone, and now they get to ignore the sweet taste of all the things delicious in the world? I change my mind; I now hate cats.

In all seriousness, though, cats really do not have a sweet tooth (or taste bud). Believe it or not, cats cannot process or digest carbs, so they were not equipped with a sweet receptor in their tongues. This means that they don’t know sweet, can’t taste sweet and have no idea that when they walk away from a piece of cheesecake just what it is that they are missing. They don’t know; and it is not fair to the rest of us and our sad lack of willpower.

Cats have 12 Times Fewer Taste Buds as Humans

All right, so cats are not nearly as refined as humans. Obviously, judging by the fact that most of us of a certain age do not eat our food off the floor or make an effort to steal it off the plates of others with our grubby little hands; but we’re not all that refined. Cats have something like 470 taste buds. That’s a lot for such a small animal. We, as humans, however have more like 9,000 taste buds. It might seem as if cats have a very limited ability to taste things, but the opposite is true. They are actually very good at using their taste buds for their dining pleasure, and it has nothing to do with how many they have so much as it has to do with how they use them.

Cats can Taste Four Flavors

Well, we already know that cats are able to taste things that are bitter and, well, bitter. We also know that they are unable to taste things that are sweet. So, what’s left? Cats are able to taste things that are savory, sour and salty. Sounds to me like they really do have the best of all worlds at the tip of their tongue. Those are my favorite flavors, and I wish I didn’t have to suffer through my life with a sweet tooth. May I put in my request now to be a cat in my next life?

Photo by Getty Images

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