Why Cats Can’t Taste SweetsPublished March 13, 2012
Think your cat has a sweet tooth? Cats, along with many other carnivores, are unable to taste sweets at all. A new study explains why.
Domestic and wild cats share a gene mutation that keeps their sweet taste buds from binding to sugary molecules like carbohydrates. But this isn’t the case for less strict carnivores like raccoons.
A team of researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia studied 12 different mammals who subsist mainly on meat and fish, and focused on their sweet taste receptor genes.
Seven species, all exclusive meat eaters, have lost the sweet taste receptor. Some of those species inhale their food without even chewing. The list included bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and spotted hyenas.
But sweet taste buds still work in mammals that need fruit and carbs, like raccoons and red wolves, showing that diet has played a part in recent evolution. Animals who were already skipping the sweets never missed the ability to taste them.
Senior author Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D., a behavioral biologist at Monell, comments, "Sweet taste was thought to be nearly a universal trait in animals. That evolution has independently led to its loss in so many different species was quite unexpected."
What does that mean for cats showing a penchant for melons, or an obsession with cake? Probably that another aspect of their taste perception is attracting them, like bitter or savory flavors.
"Different animals live in different sensory worlds and this particularly applies to their worlds of food." said Beauchamp.
Did your cat ever have you thinking she liked sweet foods?