Feline Sense Series: A Matter of Taste
Does your feline have a favorite brand of cat food? Or a certain flavor of that food which makes them salivate upon simply seeing the bag? Pet food manufacturer's advertisements frequently show cats turning their nose up at meals being offered to them and then running to the bowl when their certain brand of "tasty" food appears! However, the manufacturers don't have to please only kitty's palate, they also must convince kitty's owners that their particular brand is best. The brightly-colored, tiny fish-shaped replicas found in many dry cat foods is designed to attract HUMANS! Your cat could care less about such "whimsical" matters because the truth behind every feline's taste preferences are much more complex than the LOOK of those fun-shaped morsels. A cat's sense of taste is much more complicated than many folks know. First of all, the rough, prickly feeling of a cat's tongue (that some compare to sandpaper) is a tool they've used for centuries - allowing them to survive in the wild. Kitty's tongue is covered with tiny hook-like barbs called papillae. Since they are placed on the tongue pointing backwards, cats use their tongues to remove feathers or fur from their prey and to lick meat from the bones of their catch. As far as taste buds are concerned, mushroom-shaped papillae are present at the tip and sides of the tongue. A set of cup-shaped papillae is located at the back of the tongue. A cat's tongue mimics a spoon when drinking - enabling it to lap up liquids in quantity - swallowing after every third or fourth lap. As for the popular belief that cats are "finicky," perhaps it's because of their lack of taste buds in comparison to other species. While felines only have 473 taste buds, their canine counterparts' tongues contain over 1,700 and, an astonishing 9,000 taste buds occupy the human tongue! According to today's experts, cats can distinguish between four different tastes: sour, salty, bitter and sweet. Previously, we believed felines were unable to taste sweets because cats rarely show interest in sugary foods. Now, however, it's been discovered that cats do indeed have a few sweet-sensitive taste buds on the very back of their tongues. But, even if cats can taste sour, sweet, bitter and salty cuisines, kitty's sense of smell, oddly enough, also influences taste. In fact, smell and taste are very closely linked in cats. Both senses are located in the same area of the feline brain. Oddly enough, cats even have an "extra" sense (which humans lack) called the Jacobson's organ. Located in the roof of the mouth, it's connected to the nasal passage as well - suggesting that kitty "smell-tastes" at the same time. When an interesting aroma fills the air, a cat will slightly open its mouth, with a curled lip (this look is known as the Flehmen Response), and inhale the smell on her tongue. Then she rubs her tongue over the roof of her mouth - thus passing the smell/taste on to the Jacobson's organ for evaluation. Many cat owners are amused by this look because it's the closest thing to an actual expression - it almost appears to be the look of disgust mixed with contemplation. Thousands of scientific studies have focused on feline taste buds and thousands more will surely follow. For now, however, owner awareness needs to be the key factor in feeding your feline. As long as it's nutritionally balanced, as well as acknowledged with kitty's veterinarian's stamp of approval, then your feline's favorite known food preference will assist you choosing the perfect brand, type and flavor of cat food each and every time you shop. However, just when you think you have it all figured out and start getting a bit too comfortable picking up kitty's favorite "vittles" on a regular basis, the unthinkable happens - your cat's most beloved cuisine on earth suddenly becomes . . . repulsive to your suddenly-finicky furry friend. So, after all the time and effort spent on finding that perfect cat food, kitty pulls a 180 degree turn-around and will not even acknowledge its once-coveted food. So, it's back to square one in your search for the ultimate cat food - which when found will bring a four paws-up from your feline - for now. The danger of kitty starving to death has passed. And perhaps - just perhaps - the smallest of smirks crosses the face behind those whimsical whiskers . . . because kitty knows the game has only just begun. Sandra L. Toney has been writing about cats for 15 years. An award-winning author of eight books, such as The Simple Guide to Cats and The Little Book of Cat Tricks, Toney is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three finicky felines.