Do Cats Have Tastebuds That Distinguish Different Flavours Of Food?

Compared to the 9,000 of taste buds that humans have, cats only have about 500 taste buds. That’s 18 times less than what humans have! With that said, cats are still able to detect if something is sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami just like how humans have around 5 taste bud types to taste those flavours – the only difference is that sweet things taste different for cats as they lack the protein to appreciate sweetness. Humans have two separate proteins to identify ‘sweet’ tastes while cats only have one of them. As an example, while a marshmallow may be sweet to us humans, there is a possibility a marshmallow may taste like a turnip for cats.

As we all know, cats are obligate carnivores which means that their digestive systems are designed to process meat, not carbohydrates. This is also why cat food is typically higher in protein. 

Just like how we would not expect tigers and lions to eat many vegetables or potatoes (they do eat grass sometimes!), neither should we expect cats to do the same. The feline family is naturally designed to process meat, not carbohydrates (which are mostly what sweets are made of). There is no biological need to be able to have taste buds to taste things such as carbohydrates considering their bodies were not designed to run efficiently on carbohydrates in the first place.

However, when it comes to tasting bitterness, cats can taste them better than humans. In fact, even though they have around the same number of bitter taste receptors as humans, seven of them are highly developed. This heightened ability to taste bitterness allows our cats to stay away from toxins considering many carry a bitter taste.

With all this in mind, are there certain food that cats prefer to eat? By now, we know that our cats crave meat and other animal products. However, protein is often expensive and drives up costs in cat food manufacturing which is why you may notice that most cat food still contains a relatively high proportion of carbohydrates. 

Cats have receptors where they can “smell” how proteinaceous and oily a food is and if possible, will choose a very specific ratio of these nutrients. They will always choose food high in protein and medium in fat when possible. So why do they eat high carb kibbles and wet food? They add in palatants which are processed ingredients and enzymes that trigger their protein and fat receptors so they think this food is high in proteins and fats.  

With that said, veterinarians have started to recommend more diets with higher proteins and lower carbohydrate levels as they have seen a link between diabetes, obesity, and a cat’s diet.1

Flavour wise, we might often scratch our heads as to what our cats’ favourite food might be considering their finicky nature. In fact, a 2022 study by the School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that owners may not be the best predictors of what their cats will prefer as their perceptions of their cats’ preferences were only moderately associated with their cats’ actual flavour acceptance.

Interestingly, another 2017 study revealed that while cats initially seemed to select food based on flavour, they began to seek out food that had an ideal protein-to-fat ratio regardless of the flavour. This proves that the actual taste might mean less to cats than the actual cat food’s nutritional composition.

Where can you find such cat food in Singapore then? Do you need to manually construct a well-balanced diet for your cat? Thankfully the answer to that is no. Consider PetCube’s Gently Cooked Cat Foods which are high in protein, adjusted to appropriate fat levels and contains super low carbohydrate contents.

While it is not harmful to feed your cat small amounts of fruits or desserts (i.e. sweet food items) sparingly, it is important to remember that treats in general should not make up more than 10  percent of your cats’ diet in order to maintain a proper nutrient and caloric balance. This holds true even if you feed your cat ‘healthy’ cat treats or scraps of meat.

At the end of the day, it is important to be mindful of the cat food you feed your cat as you are the main credible source of food they have. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian before making drastic changes to your cats’ food.