Cats Taste: How Well?

The other day, one of my cats decided she needed to wash my face. I was still trying to sleep. As I lay there unable to escape (she was sitting on my hair) I began to think about cats’ sense of taste. Sure, those tongues covered in tiny barbs are great for flaying the flesh off their prey (or my face, apparently), but how well can they actually taste with that prickly appendage?

One Google search later and I had my answer. As humans, we possess a whopping 9000 taste buds. Cats tastes buds, on the other hand, only amount to 470. But before you start to feel sorry for kitty, think about this. How something tastes has a lot to do with how it smells. Cats’ sense of smell is superior to ours, and it may very well enhance their tasting abilities.

For example, the roof of your cat’s mouth contains a biological structure known as the Jacobson’s organ. This organ connects kitty’s mouth to her nasal passage. You’ve probably seen your cat do that open-mouth sniffing thing on your gym shoes or what appear to be random spots on the carpet. When she does this, she may actually be using the Jacobson’s organ to taste the aromas. If we huffed on the carpet, we wouldn’t taste anything.

Humans have taste buds that distinguish sweet, sour, bitter, salty and meaty (or umami) flavors. Cats have the same types of taste buds. However, their sweet taste buds are not very reactive. Because cats are carnivores, they must eat meat to survive. They don’t need carbohydrates and sugars the way we do, so they don’t have an evolutionary need to taste those things. According to ScientificAmerican, they actually lack the DNA that makes up the Tas1r2 gene.

Right about now, some of you are exclaiming “my cat loves ice cream,” or “my cat fights me for cookie dough!” If your kitty seems to have a “sweet tooth” she may actually be attracted to the fat content of the food in question, not the inherent sweetness. A certain amount of fat is necessary for her survival.

None of my cats are nuts for sweets. They do get a bit batty about other strange things though. One in particular loves lettuce (freshly washed, of course), cheese doodles and ear wax. She also loves exfoliating my face.

Does your cat have a "sweet tooth"? Tell us about it in the comments!

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