Feline Sense and Scents-ability: Taste and Smell (Part 2 of 4)

Mar 31, 2013 by Dr Steven Bailey    1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

If you missed it: Feline Sense and Scents-ability: Hearing (Part 1 of 4)

Cats rarely chew on plants, compared to dogs, because the main draw that plants provide is their sweet sugar content. Cats not only fail to taste sweet things, they also deal with sugars poorly in other ways – among other things, they lack a sugar digestion enzyme that both dogs and people have called “glucokinase” which helps break down sugars inside the cells.

Because cats can’t taste sweets, they don’t really “enjoy” sugary snacks the way we would. The inclusion of carbohydrates in cat food has become a very “hot topic” in feline nutrition – while corn and other carbohydrate sources, blueberries, kelp and cranberries may contain many beneficial nutrients, cats likely do not appreciate the flavor, and in some cases it is not certain how well they digest these ingredients.

Most cats prefer canned diets in which the first several ingredients are meat-based. Canned food is better for cats than dry diets because it contains a high water content (about 80%), which helps maintain a lower urine specific gravity (less “stuff” in the urine), which helps protect the kidneys and can help prevent urinary crystals and stones. Most of the cats that we see at Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital who are urinating outside the box and have bladder stones or uncomfortable crystals in their urine are eating a dry-food-only diet.

Something else to note – cats do not like bitter taste any more than people do. If you use baking soda in your litter box as a deodorizer and your cat starts eliminating elsewhere, you might stop adding the baking soda to the box. It is quite bitter in taste, and while cats don’t eat litter, they do groom their paws after using the box, so can associate the bad taste of the baking soda with using the litter!

In 2005, a study was done that discovered the entire cat family is lacking the gene for tasting the flavor “sweet”. They have taste buds in that region of the tongue, but they do not function. Cats do taste salty, sour and bitter. Their favorite tastes are salty and sour. Some cats are drawn to “sweet” foods, but it is likely the fat content vs. the flavor that they like.

Their sense of taste is much duller than ours as well – where a human tongue has over 9,000 taste buds, a cat has only 473! The cat may make up for this lack of taste buds with the small Jacobson’s organ at the front of its mouth – a “vomeronasal” organ which is slightly different than either smell or taste. You can see the ducts leading to this organ in the roof of your cat’s mouth behind the upper incisors. The organ sits right at the front of the mouth and connects to the nasal passages. Snakes, elephants and horses also have this organ, among other animals. Humans, it seems, do not have a working vomeronasal organ. To use it most effectively, the cat passes air over the front of the tongue and then touches the tongue to this sensory organ to deposit pheromone molecules there. You can see your cat using this organ when it wrinkles its lips, opens its mouth and slightly sticks its tongue out when “smelling” an area where it finds an interesting smell.

With 200 million odor-sensitive cells in its nose, compared to a human’s paltry five million, a cat’s sense of smell is much more sensitive than ours. However, they don’t hold a candle to a dog’s smelling ability. Dogs have between 149 million and 300 million receptors. Still, smell is one of a cat’s more important senses. Because smell is so important to cats, a stuffed up nose can be extremely detrimental! If a cat can’t smell his food, he is highly likely to turn his nose up at it. Conversely, a scented litter that we find to be pleasantly fresh-smelling is like drowning in perfume to a cat’s sensitive schnozz.

Dr Steven Bailey

Dr. Steven J. Bailey founded Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in 1992. He obtained his Bachelor of Science and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University in June of 1986. After graduation, Dr. Bailey practiced emergency medicine for 8 years prior to establishing Exclusively Cats. Dr. Bailey is one of two veterinarians in the state of Michigan and the only veterinarian in Southeastern Michigan that has been board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners as a Feline Specialist (ABVP). His special interests include complicated medical/surgical cases as well as critical care, advanced dentistry, and behavioral medicine. Dr. Bailey is an active member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), he is a current council member of the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association (SEMVMA). He is also an Associate Editor of the Feline Internal Medicine Board on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), invited member of VMG #18 (The only feline exclusive Veterinary Management Group) and MOM’s group (Macomb/Oakland Management Group). In his free time, Dr. Bailey is an avid kayaker (some may even call him “obsessed”) and an instructor in both canoe and kayaking sports. He also enjoys running and spending time with his family. Dr. Bailey and his wife Liz have 2 adult children, Christopher and Kayla, 3 cats, Tic Tic, Sapphire and Lacey, and one dog, Charlotte.

Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital

6650 Highland Road

Waterford, MI 48327

Phone: 248-666-5287

Fax ‎206-333-1135

ecvh@exclusivelycats.com

Website: http://www.exclusivelycats.com

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  • nekiuk

    “Canned food is better for cats than dry diets” – I think ‘expert opinion’ goes back and forth on this, and the current consensus in Europe appears to be that dry food is better.

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