Why Can’t Cats Taste Sweet Things?

For years we suspected (and now we know) that cats don’t like sweets. Sugar and spice and everything nice? Not so much! Here is why…

Caption here.
Smells good. What is it? By: anton petukhov/Flickr

Did you know cats can’t taste sweet things?

For years it was known — but not truly understood — that domestic cats, along with other members of the feline species, do not like sweets. Sugar and spice and everything nice? Not so much.

Cats have always been known as picky eaters — unlike dogs, who seem to devour just about any food you put before them. (And can you even imagine humans not being enticed by those sugary delights?)


Cats Don’t Have the “Hardware”

In 2005, scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, discovered that a genetic deficiency deletes the sugar detectors on the taste buds of a cat. In other words, cats do not possess the genetic “hardware” needed to taste sweets. Okay, that’s the short version. Good enough for me.

But here’s the longer version, for you science-inclined folks out there: The scientists examined the DNA sequences of six domestic cats. Upon analyzing the two genes responsible for sweetness detection, the researchers discovered that one of those two genes, “Tas1r2,” was missing 247 letters, meaning it lacked the ability to make a crucial protein for tasting sweetness. Got it?

They Need Meat, Not Sweets

According to Scientific American magazine, felines are really only interested in one thing other than a little petting or a nap: meat.

That’s right — unlike dogs, for instance, cats in the wild eat meat exclusively. And your cat would too, if she had a say in the matter.

However, most commercial pet food manufacturers today use corn and other grains in their products — around 20% on average, give or take — which partly explains why feline diabetes is so common. Cats’ bodies simply cannot handle all the carbohydrates in those foods.

But My Cat Does Eat Sweets! (And Here’s Why)

It is sad to think that a cat will spend her whole day catching and eating food, yet never top off that meal with a tasty dessert. Personally, sweet treats like ice cream or chocolates are my comfort foods. I cannot fathom a day without some sort of sweet sensations.

Occasionally you might run across a kitty who does eat fruit, cake, ice cream, marshmallows or some other super-sweet food. But that doesn’t mean your cat can actually taste sweetness.

Here are some likely explanations for a cat that does eat sweet things:

  • Could just be the smell. Flavor is about more than taste, after all.
  • Salts or amino acids in the dessert may be attracting the cat.
  • Some other flavor may have your cat’s interest (bitter, savory, fatty…)
  • It’s even possible that your cat enjoys the texture.

We humans, along with most other mammals excluding felines, seem to have it all — five kinds of taste buds! Sour, salty, umami (meatiness), bitter and — yes! — sweet. Yet cats seem to be content with their genetic profile. Their motto is basically “Meat can’t be beat!”

I suppose it is all in what you get accustomed to.

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