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Can Cats Taste Sweetness?

Most of us enjoy the taste of sweets to the extent that we can gain a few pounds, especially during the holidays, eating candy and other sugar-infused foods. Since sweets are a treat for us, it’s natural that they would be a treat for our cats as well. However, a recent study has shown that cats cannot taste sugar, and there is no point in giving it to them. Keep reading while we take a look at the facts in this study to see if we can learn something new and understand our pets a little better.

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Who Conducted This Taste Study?

The study that suggests that cats cannot taste sweets is brought to us by the Monell Center, an institution dedicated to learning more about the senses of taste and smell. It started in the late 1960s and has a vast database of knowledge. You can read much of what is available on their website. You can also find advice on improving your overall health, diagnosing and treating disease, and much more.

The Results Are Not Shocking

Most experts agree that the finds in the study are not entirely surprising. Cats seem to prefer other foods, like tuna, over sweets. Cats are also strict carnivores in the wild and will only eat the animals that they kill. Captive cats are primarily dry cat food containing (hopefully) high-quality meats, like chicken, beef, turkey, fish, duck, and others. Since cats do not naturally eat anything but the animals they kill, they are unlikely to develop the sensors to taste sweets or even plants.

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Image Credit: Krakenimages.com, Shutterstock

How Taste Works for Cats

The tongues of most mammals have tiny taste receptors on the surface. These receptors release proteins that bind with substances as they enter the mouth. Different proteins react to different tastes. Sweet tasting receptors will bind to sweets, while sour-tasting receptors will attach to sour foods. When the proteins leave the receptor, it sends a signal to the brain to know what the flavor is. Most foods have a complex list of ingredients that bind to several proteins at once, producing the overall flavor we can recognize as pizza or chocolate cake.

The number of receptors on each mammal tongue is directly related to the number of amino acid combinations that result in bitter-tasting genes. Some mammals like whales and dolphins have very few and can only taste salt. Humans have about 24 bitter-tasting genes. We can taste sour, bitter, sweet, salty, savoriness, and some experts say fat in different combinations and concentrations, allowing for millions of blends and flavors. Your cat has about seven of these bitter genes, and so has a much more limited ability to taste flavors.

How Do We Know Cats Can’t Taste Sugar?

Scientists have narrowed our ability to taste sweets to a pair of bitter-tasting genes called Taz1r2 and Taz1r3. These genes are present in all other mammals but are missing in cats, and it’s not just the house cat that is affected. It’s all felines, from the lion to the panther. Not having these genes in their DNA prevents them from tasting sugar the way we do.

Why Do We Have Bitter-Tasting Genes?

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Image Credit By: slawomir.gawryluk, Shutterstock

While no one is positive, most experts believe the bitter-tasting genes developed to protect animals from poisoning.  Omnivores, like the human, will eat plants and animals, so it needs more genes to detect harmful compounds. Sweet food tends to be safe to eat and good for us, while bitter and sour foods are often poisonous.

Cats do not eat different berries and plants, so they are unlikely to be accidentally poisoned by them. However, they probably have a good sense of whether the meat they are eating is good, and they can be quite picky.

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Summary

Unfortunately, your cat cannot enjoy sugar the way we do, but it’s probably for the best. Cats can be quite demanding, and owners usually give in to their demands. The high-fat treats available to them already put them at risk of obesity and a host of health problems. If they were eating sugar, obesity would be more rampant, and the sugar would be terrible for your cat’s teeth. With more than 50% of the cats over 4 years of age having some form of dental disease, we don’t need to add to the problem by offering sugar.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this look into the Monell Center’s study. If you have learned something new, please share this guide to a cat’s inability to taste sugar on Facebook and Twitter.

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Image Credit: ANNA TITOVA, Shutterstock