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Why Are Cats Fussier About Food Than Dogs?

Why Are Cats Fussier About Food Than Dogs?

               We’ve all see dogs eat disgusting things like dead animals, socks and even poop that cats would not be caught dead ingesting.  So, what makes our feline friends so much more discerning about their diets compared to dogs? There are some underlying reasons for dogs being more, ahem, adventurous eaters than cats.

               Cats are what are known as obligate carnivores, meaning their natural diets consist only of high protein, fresh meat.  Cats need meat for survival: as much as seventy percent of a cat’s diet needs to come from meat, and they are not equipped to properly digest plant material though they do eat some plants and grains.  Cats also have slightly less acidic stomach acid than dogs and are less able to handle eating spoiled foods.  Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores meaning they eat both meat and plants and have adapted more to being scavengers than hunters. Certainly, dogs have some hunting skills and prey drive, but they do not rely solely on hunting for food as wild cats would. A dog’s survival instinct is to forage and take advantage of any potential meal, including rotting foods. This gamble does not always pay off, but most dogs have pretty hardy gastrointestinal tracts which often allows them to eat things that may make humans or cats ill with no serious consequences.

               Cats and dogs also have different tastes, literally. Cats have more bitter taste receptors than dogs so foods that are past their prime or even foods that are bland to dogs may be bitter and unappealing to cats.  Cats also lack taste receptors for sweet foods due to lack of function of a gene called Tas1r2.  Cats who seem to enjoy sweets like whipped cream may actually be enjoying the fats in these foods.  Cats DO enjoy the savory flavor known as “umami” which is prevalent in meat.  It seems our fastidious felines are actually hard-wired to prefer flavors which coincide with their nutritional need for fresh meat. Dogs rely more on sense of smell as part of tasting than cats do, and they have more taste receptors for sweetness and fewer receptors for bitterness giving them a wider palate.  There are definitely some picky pooches out there when it comes to eating, but most dogs eat a wider variety of foods than cats.

               Both cats and dogs are also very habitual, but cats in particular dislike change.  Trying to change a cat’s food can be tricky as their eating habits are tied to routine.  A change in their normal habits may lead to stress and decreased appetite or refusal to eat new foods.  In a cat’s world, change equates to possible threat and cats tend to avoid new and unfamiliar situations as an instinctual means of protection.  Dogs like routine, too, but many enjoy exploring novel toys, foods and situations in their surroundings.

               If you must introduce your dog or cat to a new food, here are some tips. For dogs, make meal time exciting—offer pieces of a new dog food as a treat, try putting it in a new bowl, on a plate or even on the floor or consider adding a tasty topper to the food like broth, a small spoonful of canned food or a treat.  Of course, be cautious if your dog has food allergies or gastrointestinal issues.  For cats, it is often best to offer a new diet in a separate bowl alongside the cat’s current food to allow them to sample and explore it on their own terms at first. Gradually reduce the amount of the cat’s usual food after he or she has had some time to adjust.  Patience and a slow transition are key for cats. Sticking with one or two flavors may also be more appealing. 

               As you can see, there are some inherent differences in how dogs and cats taste foods and in what foods pets need in their diets which helps explain why cats and dogs eat the way they do. Offering a variety of different foods and textures to young puppies and kittens may make for less picky eaters and transitioning to different diets easier in the future.

               This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.

               Radford, Sheri. “Undiscriminating Dogs and Feline Foodies: Why Cats Are Pickier Than Dogs.” Modern Cat, vol. 13, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2024, pp. 39-40.