Cats and taste: their perception of bitter & sweet

A savvy pet owner knows the key to optimal health of their cat is good nutrition. Yet often when served their food – be it wet, dry or organic – our pet’s response to the dish can be somewhat unpredictable. Recent research that set out to explore cats’ responses to bitter tastes may be able to shed some light on why our cats can be so finicky around food.


The study: comparing human and feline tastes

The study from AFB International and Integral Molecular, which was published on peer-reviewed journal BMC Neuroscience, set out to evaluate the response of two cat taste receptors, Tas2r38 and Tas2r43, to bitter compounds. The only ‘certainty’ in advance of this intriguing research was the fact that cats lack the ability to taste sweetness. Because of this knowledge, gleaned from previous research, it was assumed that domestic felines could be ‘victims’ of an excessive perception to bitter flavours. To confirm this conjecture, using cells grown in the laboratory the researchers tested the reactions of these receptors on organic compounds that are known for being particularly sour for human palates: phenylthiocarbamide and 6-n-propylthiouracil, which have molecular structures similar to substances found in Brussels sprouts and broccoli. The researchers also tested the receptors for response to aloin (a substance found in several species of plant including the aloe plant) and denatonium, the bitterest chemical compound known.

The sour combination, which would floor even the most stoic eater, has helped to clarify that a cat’s Tas2r38 bitter receptor is much less sensitive to phenylthiocarbamide in comparison to the corresponding human receptor, but it was completely indifferent to the bitterness of the 6-n-propylthiouracil compound. Like its human counterpart, the cat receptor Tas2r43 was slightly stimulated by the aloin but noticeably more sensitive to the denatonium than the human receptor. This last conclusion provided firm evidence to scholars: cats perceive bitter tastes to a greater extent than we do.


How to make food appealing to cats: the theories of the scholars

Thanks to the results of the study, we can better understand why our cats come across as fussy eaters. The proof is in, cats perceive the bitter taste in food much more than humans do, meaning food that tastes bland to us could represent a really unpleasant gastronomic experience for our feline friends. The research also gives scientists hope regarding the administration of medicines – a real issue for cats and their owners – giving rise to the possibility of creating compounds that block or inhibit the receptor Tas2r43, thus making medicines and foods more palatable to our cats. Meanwhile, the natural nutritional suggestion by Almo Nature, to feed a cat a diet that is made up of wet and dry food that respects a cat’s strictly carnivorous nature, stands true.

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