While cats are reported by owners to be finicky eaters, most dogs will eat just about anything.
We have heard of owners complaining about their dogs eating socks, tennis balls, and sometimes, even legs of wooden chairs and grocery receipts.
But can dogs taste food?
Yes, according to Katie Finlay in the article “Can Dogs Taste?” in the American Kennels Club website.
“If you’re used to seeing dog food advertisements, you likely think that a dog’s sense of taste is very highly refined. However, this is quite far from the truth, “ Finlay said.
A dog only has 1,700 taste buds compared to 9,000 taste buds in humans. Thus, a dog’s sense of taste is much less discriminating as a dog’s taste bud is only about one-sixth as powerful as that of humans.
It is interesting to note that studies have shown that dogs can identify four taste classifications: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
But dogs also have special taste buds specifically for water.
“Cats and other carnivores have these taste buds, but they aren’t found in humans. They are found at the tip of the tongue where it curls as the animal laps water, and although it reacts to water at all times, it’s more sensitive after eating salty and sugary foods. The theory behind this is that, when in the wild, animals might need more water after eating certain foods that may dehydrate them,” Finlay said.
Dogs however respond to sweet, sour, salty and bitter differently than humans.
“Unlike humans and other animals, dogs do not have an affinity for salt. This is likely because their ancestors' diet consisted of roughly 80 percent meat in the wild, and meat is a very salty food. Making salt less palatable is nature’s way of prohibiting excess salt intake, the same way many bitter and sour foods are the result of rancidity or poison, “ Finlay said.
Dogs developed a liking to sweet flavors possibly due to the fact their omnivore ancestors ate fruits and vegetables in the wild, Finlay said.
Taste vs Smell
So if they can taste food, how come they will eat anything, even garbage?
The answer lies in the smell.
While the dog’s sense of taste is roughly a fraction of a human’s, his sense of smell is one million times stronger.
“Smell and taste are very closely related, and dogs can actually taste foods through their sense of smell with a special organ along the dog’s palate. To exemplify this point, you can note that while dogs can differentiate between meat-based and non-meat-based foods without smell, they cannot differentiate between chicken, beef, fish, or pork without smell, “ Finlay said.
She added: “Humans don’t have the ability to taste smell in this sense, but it certainly proves the point that if something smells good, it’s going to taste good to a dog. This is also why dogs are more interested in foods that smell stronger, such as canned foods versus dry kibbles. Canned foods are often much more aromatic, and therefore, more enticing.”
If your dog is a picky eater, check the food you are giving your dog. You can choose a more aromatic food, said Dr. Jennier Coates in the article “Can Dogs Taste? And What Do They Like to Eat? in PetMD.
“It’s believed that many problems with picky eaters are not an issue with food taste or smell, but rather a smart dog holding out for something more delicious (for example, when an owner offers kibble and then immediately offers ground beef after the dog refuses to eat). That said, dogs can definitely taste and will certainly have their own preferences when it comes to favorite snacks, “ Coates said.
A dog's food choice
A puppy exposed to a variety of food (dry, canned, home cooked meals, treats) will likely try different food when he or she becomes an adult.
But dogs will always go for food with a stronger smell or aroma.
Food also lose their aroma and flavor when the food “ages.”
“Another factor is the freshness of the food.... (When the food ages..) The fats in the product also start to oxidize into peroxides. This degradation is known as rancidity and results in undesirable odors and flavors, “ Coates said.
Dry food is palatable for only about one month after the bag is opened.
Owners are advised to keep the dog food bag closed tightly to keep the kibble fresh. If you transfer dry dog food to a container, make sure the lid is tightly closed.
“Even though it may be more economical to buy in bulk, the food’s palatability may suffer," Coates said.
“Unopened canned food has a shelf life of approximately two years before the vitamins start to break down. After opening, the can should be covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than 3-5 days. When the food comes out of the refrigerator, it will not have as strong a smell, so you may need to add warm water or warm it slightly in the microwave to get the aroma. Take care not to serve it too hot or your dog might burn his mouth, “ Coates advised.
She added: “Environmental temperatures can affect appetite too. If it is hot outside and your dog is panting, he cannot sniff (smell) at the same time and may not want to eat. If your dog is an outside dog, cold temperatures can reduce the aroma of his food or it may have a different mouthfeel and be less appealing. Again, warming might do the trick.”
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