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Can Cats Taste Spicy Food? What You Need to Know

If you have a cat, then you’re well-acquainted with being stared at while you eat. No matter what you’re shoving into your mouth, it’s a good bet that your kitty wants to have a taste as well.

But what about when you’re eating something loaded with jalapeños or wasabi? Can your cat taste all the spice that infuses every bite? More importantly, should you feed your cat spicy food?

If you’ve ever wondered these questions, you’re in luck — because the answers are below.

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Can Cats Taste Spicy Food?

When it comes to physical senses, cats are our superiors in almost every way — except taste. We have nearly 9,000 taste buds, while cats only have 470. What’s more, cats are completely unable to taste certain things, like sweetness.

This is likely because cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they only eat meat. Meat usually isn’t sweet, so there’s no need for cats to register those flavors on their tongues.

spicy chicken wings
Image Credit: Pixabay

Cats can also register bitter and sour flavors, but that’s not because they enjoy hunting down packs of Sour Patch Kids in the wild. Rather, it’s due to the fact that those flavors can indicate whether what they’re eating is rotten, indicating that they should find something else to munch on.

But what about spicy flavors? There’s no real need for a cat to register spice at all, as meat isn’t inherently spicy, and heat isn’t an indicator of rancidness or anything like that. As a result, the answer is no, cats can’t taste spicy foods.

That doesn’t mean they can’t understand that a certain food is spicy, however. It’s about what exactly makes a food spicy.

Why Are Certain Foods Spicy?

The compound responsible for making spicy food spicy is called “capsaicin.” It is believed that capsaicin was developed by chili peppers as a way to increase their odds of reproducing. It irritates the pain receptors in any animal that consumes it — except birds. This causes most animals to leave it alone, except for the flying creatures that can spread the chili pepper’s seeds far and wide.

spices
Image Credit: Pixabay

When your cat eats something spicy, they don’t taste it but they can certainly feel it. The capsaicin activates the pain receptors in their mouth, the same way that it does in yours. However, your cat gets all of the pain and none of the pleasure that comes from eating a habanero.

As a result, there’s little benefit for your cat in eating spicy foods. This is all according to the chili pepper’s plan, of course, as they see no benefit in getting eaten by your cat.

Are Spicy Foods Bad for Your Cat?

Most spicy foods aren’t toxic for your cat, but since your cat hasn’t evolved to eat them, they’re not well-prepared to tolerate them.

Typically, all that will happen when a cat eats something spicy is that they may chew it a few times and then spit it out (and venture off in search of water). If that’s all that happens, then your cat shouldn’t see any ill effects other than a burning mouth for a few minutes.

If your cat soldiers through and actually swallows it, though, you both may be in for a rough few days. The capsaicin will continue to irritate any tissue that it comes in contact with, which could lead to intestinal distress for your furry friend.

As you are likely well aware, intestinal distress in cats can lead to truly rancid presents in the litter box. While this likely won’t cause any long-term damage, it won’t be fun for either of you until the capsaicin has been eliminated from the cat’s digestive tract.

You’ll need to monitor your cat’s fluid intake as well. Sometimes eating spicy food puts them off drinking water, and unless they have access to wet food, they may not get the moisture that they need. While this is rare, it’s worth being aware of.

chili peppers
Image Credit: Pixabay

Why Does My Cat Seem to Love Spicy Food?

Despite everything, certain cats seem to love spicy foods. Why is that, if they can’t taste them and all that capsaicin brings them nothing but pain?

As it turns out, there’s a simple answer: We don’t know.

Scientists are trying to figure out the answer to this question, but at this point, all we have is conjecture. The prevailing theory at the moment is that spicy foods have a strong smell that attracts cats.

Perversely, they may also be attracted to the painful temperature. Cats like their food warm — they’ve evolved to eat fresh kills, after all. Spicy food certainly scratches the itch for heat, even when it’s at room temperature.

Finally, your cat may like spicy food simply because they see you eating it all the time. You likely have a good track record with your cat at this point, and they trust that anything you eat regularly is likely to be good. So, your cat may be choking down your salsa simply because they’re assuming that if you eat it so often, it just has to get better at some point.

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What’s the Verdict? Can Cats Taste Spicy Foods?

While your cat may constantly badger you for a taste of your spicy food, there’s no reason to share your supper with them. Cats can’t taste the spice, but they can feel the pain, and that could lead to mild digestive issues and other problems.

This means that you have our permission to ignore your cat the next time they beg for a nibble of your nachos.

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Featured Image: Komarova Julia, Shutterstock

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