Taste - The Senses

Fastidious feeders, cats have a well-developed sense of taste, but one that is not as wide-ranging as ours.

Cats, as we know, tend to be fussy eaters, and are more gourmets than gourmands. Whereas dogs quite readily share a human diet and often adore the odd cookie or candy bar, cats don't generally have much of a sweet tooth. As pure carnivores, why should they? Many cats cannot digest sugar and get diarrhea if they consume much of it. Perhaps the fact that they do not have a sweet tooth is a natural aid to avoiding sugar. The reason for the difference between canines and felines appears to be that while dogs have "sweet" receptors in the taste buds of their mouth, cats don't. It was once thought that, whereas dogs definitely did have nerve links between tongue and brain that can carry "sweet" messages, cats did not. Now we know that a few "sweet"-bearing nerves do exist in domestic cats, and the numbers seem to be on the increase! I suppose that the breeding of cats that share the homes and habits of their human companions is reinforcing the persistence of such structures, and perhaps one day all pet cats will be toffee addicts!

Moving on from theorizing to the reality of some of the strange things that cats eat, as discussed later in the chapter on diet, the flat-headed cat (Felis planiceps) has a liking for sweet potatoes. One assumes it must be able to taste the sweetness. I know that tigers in Manchuaria love to eat sweet nuts (shells and all), berries, and fruit in the autumn, and in Malaysia they are keen on during fruit. Many domestic cats I have known, particularly Siamese and Burmese, have had a sweet tooth. One of mine adored raisins and another regularly went crazy for slices of juicy tangerine.

Day-old kittens have a well-developed sense of taste but, as with humans, the acuity fades gradually with age. A temporary loss of the ability to taste, with accompanying loss of appetite can occur in cats with respiratory disease, just as our taste buds are affected by a bad cold in the head.