Do Dogs Have Tastebuds That Distinguish Different Flavours Of Food?

Puppies develop their sense of taste just a few weeks after being born, often before they develop a sense of hearing and vision! Compared to the 9,000 taste buds that humans have, dogs only have 1,700 taste buds. That’s 5 times less than what humans have! If you look closely at your dog’s tongue, you will see lots of small bumps called papillae which contain clusters of taste buds each. 

Generally, each taste bud contains around 50 taste receptor cells which means that while your dog may have less taste buds than us humans, it does not mean that they have a muted sense of taste. They are still able to detect if something is sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami. Fun fact: they even have specific taste buds for water!

For humans, many of us may define water as tasteless, but considering these special taste buds for water that our dogs have, our dogs might think differently!

Interestingly enough, dogs also have taste buds at the back of their throats, so they can taste food just by smelling them. The back of their tongues are also most sensitive to sweets which is why you might see your dog gulping down treats.2

When it comes to dog food, does it matter what we feed them? Dogs have specific taste receptors that are more sensitive to pick up tastes from meats, fats and meat-related chemicals, considering their ancestral diet mainly consisting of meat. In addition to the fewer taste buds than humans, dogs might find it more difficult to distinguish subtle flavour differences such as that between different types of berries (e.g. strawberry versus blueberries).

While dogs can taste water better than us, humans taste salt better than dogs. Dogs never had to develop highly tuned salt receptors as compared to humans as their heavily meat-based ancestral diets are already naturally high in salt.1 This means meat help to satisfy dogs’ salt intake and considering that dogs are descendants of wolves, it comes as no surprise as to why you might find your omnivorous, modern-day dog launching for the next meat-based dog food meal. Studies have shown that dogs prefer beef and pork over chicken and lamb, which might be a point of consideration when preparing your dogs’ food in the future. However, with that being said, it is important to expose your dog to the different flavours to get a sense of their preferred flavours. Studies have also shown that dogs prefer warm, moist dog food as opposed to cold, dry foods – similar to how humans may prefer hot cooked food as opposed to cold, pre-packaged food if eaten as our main meals on a daily basis.

On the flip side, dogs do have flavours that they dislike – which are usually bitter tastes. Often, chew-deterrent sprays for dogs include bitter ingredients.1 This might also be the reason why your dog tries to avoid medication due to the bitter tastes. In fact, some medications can be so bitter that it causes your dog to foam at the mouth – yikes! One way to avoid this is to insert the medication into a tasteless gelatine capsule so that the initial taste and smell can be masked while you slip it into the dog food.

Sometimes we might be curious as to whether our dogs can taste spicy food – while dogs do have receptors for it, they lack the ability to detect much of the flavour. That being said, the burning heat from spicy food is caused by a compound called ‘capsaicin’ and can cause physical reactions in dogs even though they might not be able to fully taste it.

Another common curiosity is whether or not our dogs can taste or drink alcohol – while there may be viral videos on the internet about drunk dogs, it is definitely a strict taboo to feed your dog even the tiniest sip of wine, beer, mixed alcoholic drink or any kind. This can lead to alcohol poisoning and effectively harming your dog more than benefiting them.

At the end of the day, it is important to be mindful of the dog food (and drinks) you feed your favourite fur friend as you provide the main source of food they consume. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian before making drastic changes to your dogs’ food.

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