Cats are enigmatic, or mysterious, creatures and this makes them fascinating to cat lovers. Most cats love their food, yet they may sniff it and walk away at times, even after demanding you feed them – several times a day! One day they love their gourmet chicken flavour; the next they won’t touch it. Here are some facts and tips on what your cats wants you to know about their eating habits…
- Meat eaters
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat meat. Cats have a high protein requirement and they cannot manufacture taurine in their body, so require this amino acid in their diet.
Tip: Check the protein content of your cat’s food. Cats need at least 26% protein and kittens over 40%
2. Little and often
Cats prefer to eat several small meals per day. While dogs may be satisfied with one or two large meals, cats would ideally graze every 2 hours! This is why they may constantly beg you for food, then when you feed them, then walk away after only a few mouthfuls, only to return and begin demanding again 2 hours later!
Tip: If you cannot be around, use an automated food releasing machine. This is especially useful for those cats who demand feeding overnight!
3. Lack of taste
Cats have only around 500 taste buds. Compare this to our 9000 and you realise that they don’t actually have a very refined palate! Cats make up for their lack of taste sensitivity by having a well-developed sense of smell. They also have a Jacobsen’s organ (vomeronasal organ) which helps analyse scents. This probably helps them in tasting their food, although it is primarily used to sniff urine!
4. No sweet tooth
Cats taste ranges and preferences are quite narrow. Humans enjoy five kinds of taste buds (possibly six): sour, bitter, salty, umami (or meatiness) and sweet (as well as possibly fat). Cats have similar taste buds but they cannot taste sweet. This inability is unique in mammals. They may even lack the ability to digest sugars.
I am sure you are asking: “Why does my cat eat ice cream?” or “Why do cats love milk”.
Your cat is probably attracted to the fat in the ice cream, not the sugar.
5. It’s not just taste
Cats use their senses when eating and not just the sense of taste. Cats, when tested in a maze, oriented towards the visual food stimulus rather than the olfactory (smell). Making sure your cat can see their food may be important, especially for those that are not food-motivated.
When cats like their food they may sniff it a little less than food that they are not so keen on. They don’t tend to eat any faster through.
5. Fussy eaters
Being adapted to a meat diet, cats often prefer meaty flavours (meat and fish) while being quite unresponsive towards sugars and salts. In fact the best feline tasting ability is for meat. Cats may rely on past experience to determine safe and nutritious foods and some cats can become quite fussy.
Cats are sensitive to bitter tastes. Why do we taste bitter? Not to enjoy lemons but to distinguish and avoid foods that have gone off.
Cats also enjoy their food at room temperature. This probably most closely resembles the temperature of live prey!
Tip: If you are keeping a can of cat food open in the fridge, warm it up a little before serving.
6. Novelty and flavours
Although some can be fussy, cats generally like novel foods. They like variety, possibly being a way to obtain necessary nutrients. Overall, cats eat a wide variety of foods within a narrow range of tastes.
Tip: If your cat has become a fussy eater, try a novel food flavour. Any major changes in diet should be undertaken gradually, so that you do not upset your cat’s stomach and digestion.
7. Eating with their humans
Shelter cats, when observed, increased their feeding behaviour when humans were present. This should not be too difficult, given that most cats like ot eat at least 4 times every day!
Tip: If your cat doesn’t want to eat or perhaps if you are transitioning onto another diet, sticking around while your cat eats may be the key to success.
8. Facial expressions
Cats display distinct facial expressions to pleasant and unpleasant tastes. When enjoying a pleasant taste their eyes may be half shut. When encountering unpleasant tastes they stick their tongue out more (tongue protrusion gape).
9. Cat diet
When cats are on a weight-loss diet, they may increase their appetitive behaviour – begging for food, meowing and following owners around. Luckily for us, begging should decrease with time. Litter box entries may also increase but settle with time.
Good news is that cats become more affectionate towards their owners during their weight loss regime (anything to get more food!)
10. Up high
Height gives cats security. They feel safe when eating high too. This may be why they enjoy your kitchen benchtops. That and the morsels of food that they scavenge!
If you have more than one cat, all may benefit from feeding at different feeding stations. Think unused vertical space to erect shelves. This helps avoid food fights.
Tip: Cats often feel secure when eating up high, especially if there is a dog or a young child in the family.
References: contact Dr Jo Righetti for sources of this information