Cats: Why Are They Picky Eaters?

catIf there’s one thing us cat lovers dislike about our pets, it’s how picky they are. They’re like little food aficionados. One minute they’re eating that high-grade cat food and the next thing you know, they’re rummaging through garbage.

If you’ve ever wondered why they’re such meticulous eaters, here’s what you’ve been looking for. Scientists now have an answer.

Bitter Tasters

A new research from Monell Center shows that cats have, at the least, seven functional bitter receptors in their raspy tongues. Now, you may think this can’t really explain why they are so fussy. But, anecdotal research from the center explains that the ability to taste bitter things evolved to protect animals — and us — from ingesting toxins.

It explains why we tend to naturally recoil from bitter-tasting food, and why cats usually take a long time inspecting the food you give them. They’re just testing to see if they can actually eat the food and not have a stomach ache.

The sense of taste ultimately evolved so that animals could make better decisions about what they eat, such as whether a potential food source is nutritionally advantageous or possibly harmful.

A Nuanced Taste

Despite this, cats have a surprisingly nuanced or weak bitter taste receptors compared to most omnivorous mammals. Even our own bitter taste receptors are more defined than our feline friends’. Additional findings from Monell Center revealed that this stems from the cat’s diet.

kittensCats are omnivores, but they weren’t always like that. Their wild cousins, from the lion to their direct ancestor the African Wild Cat, are predominantly carnivorous. We earlier mentioned that bitter taste receptors evolved to detect potentially toxic foodstuffs; to be specific; they evolved so that animals could detect potentially deadly plant toxins.

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Since cats were only domesticated recently, their bitter taste receptors aren’t as well defined as other omnivores simply because they still aren’t used to eating plant and meat foodstuffs together. Similarly, the notion that cats can’t taste anything sweet is incorrect.

Since our feline companions are slowly turning to an omnivorous diet, they are developing sweet taste receptors, which are necessary in all herbivorous and omnivorous animals to detect sugar, an energy source, in plant material.

The new study is an important find, as it will help manufacturers create more palatable cat food for our furry feline friends. Peihua Jiang, PhD, a Monell molecular biologist and the lead study author, says, “Now that we know that they can taste different bitters, our work may lead to better formulations of cat food that eliminate the bitter off-taste associated with certain flavors and nutrients.”