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Flavors Cats Love, Hate and Ignore

By Darcy Lockman

Flavors Cats Love, Hate and Ignore
First-time cat owner Jack Franken, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, was initially startled at how indifferent his calico cat, Dusty, was toward food. “I grew up with dogs,” explains Franken, a nurse practitioner. “They followed me around all day waiting for treats, or even just crumbs from my dinner. When my girlfriend and I brought Dusty home, I was expecting the same.” Unlike some dogs, Franken discovered, many cats can be more selective. “I was pretty surprised,” he says.

Dusty’s behavior is not just a personality quirk. Below, Dr. Joseph Brand, a director of the Philadelphia-based research institute Monell Chemical Senses Center, explains cat food preferences and why physiology may be behind feline food fickleness.

What Cats Can Taste
Unlike dogs, which are pack animals whose early survival depended on scavenging and winning the canine competition for food, domestic cats evolved from small desert felines that hunted mice and birds. Because their natural prey was abundant and easy to catch, they never developed a need to “wolf” down their food, or even to eat whatever presented itself -- hence, your furry friend’s ability to walk away from a half-full bowl.

The mammals cats ate early on helped to shape their ability to experience sour, bitter and salty flavors. Sugar, however, may never have materialized in the environment in which cats developed.

Feline Flavor Likes and Dislikes
While today’s cats hate the taste of bitter, which can indicate toxins in nature, they can’t even detect that of sugar. In the 1970s, curious about the apparent lack of a feline sweet tooth, researchers at Monell conducted an experiment and found that cats had no particular preference. “They had no taste for sweetness at all,” explains Dr. Brand. “When we published our research, I got 250 e-mails in two days saying, ‘My cat likes ice cream,’ or, ‘My cat likes marshmallows.’” He explains, “Cats enjoy fat, protein, and novel textures. Eating those foods doesn’t mean they’re responding to the sweetness.”

Your Cat’s Palate
Should all this knowledge influence the choices you make when feeding your cat? Not really, says Brand. “Cats especially like amino acids, but you can’t go out and buy histamine. The cat food industry does its best to recreate flavors associated with foods cats enjoy -- tuna, say, and kidney. If your cat likes it, fantastic. But humans can’t translate their taste world into that of cats.” He adds, “Our receptors are unique, and so are theirs.”

That said, it can be helpful to keep in mind that your cat is tempted not only by taste, but also by scent, texture and temperature. When given a choice, cats will select foods with powerful aroma, high fat content, a variety of textures (e.g., commercial soft and hard food mixed together), and food that’s around the temperature of freshly slaughtered prey, or about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. If your cat begins turning up its nose at your offerings, try feeding it something with a stronger odor and a mixture of shapes and textures -- all heated on the stove or in the microwave until slightly warmed.

Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

Tags: cat care , cat food

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Posted on December 2, 2011

Stephanie says: I have two garbage cats. They used to try to eat anything they could find. I have been able to break them of that habit by giving them a routine with their food (wet in the mornig/dry at night) and they get a kitty treat every night. This keeps them from begging or trying to steal food off of our plates. On the rare occasion, I will give them a crumble of cheese or tuna, but those are special treats that they get for doing tricks.

Posted on December 11, 2011

Sophie-H says: I'm not sure I agree about cats not tasting sugar, my male cat honestly seemed to prefer sweeter foods and would even turn down a food when there's no sweetener on it (he preferred his toast with jam, and his coffee with vanilla-flavored cream, plain toast and plain cream would not do). My father just attempted to put our girl cat on a diet, which must be one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Unfortunately he himself is trying the "Atkins Diet", and our very mooch-y little girl cat soon abandoned her diet for his, she adores his new habit of having a big steak for lunch.

Posted on December 16, 2011

Mary says: My cat loves avocados, mushrooms, and zucchini. He's not a fan of liver, beef, or tuna which is weird

Posted on July 16, 2011

Mike says: Both my cats LOVE marshmallows. Also whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, the cream from sandwich cookies, pretty much anything with sugar. And of course table scraps. One of them won't eat dark meat poultry though. White meat or he walks away. I'm the same way, but I don't know how he learned it.

Posted on July 20, 2011

Adrienne says: My 20-lb male RagDoll craves fresh spinach - but it must be BABY spinach leaves. I assume he needs more iron in his diet...

Posted on June 23, 2011

Gert says: I have a cat who loves ham and the leaves from strawberries. He does eat dry food and canned to, but, just try to eat a ham sandwich without sharing! Never happen!!!!

Posted on June 8, 2011

Jerseydevil43 says: I have 3 (adopted) cats that are all around the age of 8. One will not eat any kind of "people-food" at all, except orange sherbet push-pops. One will eat absolutely anything, loves cheetos, doritos, fries, even fruit-by-the-foot. LOL. The last is pickier, and attacks her food before she eats. Cats are so odd!!!

Posted on June 19, 2011

Marie says: My cats as a group want whatever it is I have! Individually they prefer different tastes. They don't like raw meat, except bacon. No shrimp but they like the shells. Sweet is not an attractant , but some like the taste of honey. 

Posted on June 4, 2011

Yvette says: My cat Piglet was 6weeks old when i brought her home and we had bought a small chocolate cake to celebrate the occasion. She jumped out of my arms and flew like a squirrel landing on the cake and eating her way to the bottom. She is 9 years old now and still goes crazy when she sees chocolate!!!!

Posted on May 30, 2011

nancy says: My cat Moochie was never declawed. I want to get a new couch but am afraid to for fear he will claw on it. Is there any way to prevent this from happening.

Posted on May 25, 2011

Ada says: My cats love strawberry yogurt. Is it harmful for them?

Posted on May 29, 2011

Hemlock says: I had a cat that liked strawberry sherbert and orange flavored starburst and tootsie roll pops. Also bread products. Have a young cat right now that will pretty much eat anything that falls on the floor...peas, broccoli (cooked), potato chips, walnuts, beets, olives....if my three year old offers it, the cat eats it.

Posted on May 13, 2011

Mark says: I have 3 cats: Tiger (18 years old), Rowdy (8 years old), and Scooby (7 years old). They are family to me. I feed them a can of cat food every other day, and they have Iams dry food. OH! Let's not forget the treats! They are indoor-outdoor cats, and Rowdy loves to bring home baby bunnies and birds...usually alive, and then releases them for me to chase around the house! LOL...I love my cats so much.

Posted on May 11, 2011

Harrison says: My cat loves ear wax.  She will dig Q Tips out of the trash and lick the cotton off... but never the clean ones from the box.

Posted on May 12, 2011

dianne says: my cat, Krinkles, loves Yoplait whipped 'strawbery' yogurt, and BBq chips, banana, and sometimes likes to like fresh cut pineapple. She used to likie popcorn, but not anymore.

Posted on February 13, 2011

Ed Fitch says: When I was 8 (a long, long time ago!) I was watching our cat, Snooper, nursing her kittens. Curious, I got down on all fours. kneaded her around a teat, and tasted her milk. It was definitely sweet!

Posted on May 30, 2010

Monica says: @Dennis: Vinegar repels cats. If you rub some white distilled vinegar on the tubes, it should keep your cat from chewing on them.

Posted on January 10, 2010

Dennis says: My wife requires home oxygen. Our cat loves to chew on the plastic tubing that carries the oxygen which then leaks and must be replaced. Is there something I can rub on the tubing that would keep the cat from chewing it ?

Posted on July 23, 2008

Ben says: We recently adopted a 1yr old calico. Sora, small for her breed weighing in at 7.4 lbs. , is not picky. We regularly vary her cat food and she does not mind any choices we make. We do provide her with some special treats now and then, but she does not beg for human food. She does, however, like Wheat Thins, cheese, and Boston Bib Lettuce. Not that we feed her that regularly- I think she likes the salt on the Wheat Thins, and the texture of the lettuce- but she doesn't like Romaine or Red lettuce.

Posted on August 29, 2008

Nina says: My little girl kitty ADORES mini marshmallows!! Are these bad for her? I try to limit her to 2 per serving. Thanks!

Posted on September 8, 2009

John says: While my 14 year old male cat is given the best food, he will turn his nose at any beef, some fish but goes crazy if a bottle of wine or beer is opened, or especially a bag of marshmallows. He even grabbed a bag of marshmallows off the table. He is otherwise well behaved. Why such seemingly strange preferences?

Posted on June 24, 2008

Erika says: My cat Midnight loves eating dog food and biscuits! Whenever we give our dog a treat he cries for one and has even tried to steal the treat from the dog while he is eating it. Him and his sister Smudge love eating plastic and q-tips!! They steal them from our garbage and eat the cotton right off of them. They also go nuts for milk! I was one of those people that thought milk was good for cats and now they are nuts for it. As soon as we have our cereal in the morning they are right there begging for their spoonful. How can I get them to stop these bad habits? I love them and worry that eating the plastic and cotton will hurt their stomache. Please help.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Ray Tanyer says: Apparently you do not have experiece with the same type of cats that we have. Our cat likes sweets and doesn't like tuna or kidney. We have had or known several cats in this category.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Carole M. (FL) says: Thanks loads for this article...I learned some new things, and you re-affirmed some things I've known for a long time. Look forward to more.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Jules says: My 14 year old Siamese, male, Boog, loves asperagus, and sometimes cantelope if in the proper ripeness stage. He yells for and demands asperagus when he smells it cooking, so I always get enough for him. This Spring he's been enjoying four sprigs morning and evening. He gets excellent food without corn, soy or wheat in it. When he was young, he hunted himself a gopher a day, and ate all but the colon. He is healthy and strong and weighs 15 lbs.

Posted on March 17, 2008

carol in arkansas says: my cat miss critter likes sweets, and loves crossants, but then she is a special cat...

Posted on March 17, 2008

carol in arkansas says: my cat miss critter likes sweets,and loves crossants,but then she is a special cat...

Posted on March 17, 2008

patsy morrison says: After all the health concerns about commercial canned and dry dog foods, we found a company that guaranteed USA approved contents for both cats and dogs. We switched to a very high quality dry cat food for our 12 year old cat. But, although she ate it, she still preferred Kit & Kaboodles so I still give her a little of that, reluctantly. I wonder if there are additives to the commercial brands that make them sort of addictive. That would be a guess. But, P.J. does love table food and politely sits and begs at the table for scraps of any kind, from egg whites to chicken or any kind of meat.

Posted on March 19, 2008

MaRIANNA says: My cat comes running when I'm making myself lunch and goes nuts for a little taste of turkey cold cuts..she does not like sweets and loves to play hide and seek..

Posted on March 21, 2008

april says: that kitten is so cute!i want one!i want one!there so cute!its gray furr is so soft.if i could hold it i would be so happy!i love kittens!your friend,april

Posted on March 30, 2008

Donnell says: My cat, Stewie, will not eat anything but cat food. I've tried to treat him to fish, both canned tuna and fresh caught, and other things like chicken and meat. He turns his nose up at it all. The only thing he goes crazy over is pet grass, although he doesn't even bother with cat nip. He goes crazy over any kind of canned cat food, and sometimes he tries to eat the canned dog food too.

Posted on April 24, 2008

gail says: My kitty Abbie will only eat the sause from the canned cat food. Hence, her nick-name; "Sausey"

Posted on May 17, 2008

Jodie says: I think this article is interesting seeing that I spend a lot of time selecting different flavors of canned food for my cat. Being a new mother, I can't leave the house and must order her food online and am forced to pick ONE flavor in bulk. Now I have to decide my cat's preference for her and feel bad!

Posted on March 16, 2008

Arlene says: My 8 yr old male cat eats like a dog-everything and anything, including anything dropped on the floor, edible or not. And if there's anything left on his sisters' plates, he'll eat that, too. Needless to say, he's a chunk-almost 20 lbs, compared to his 6 and 9 lb sisters! WHY do fat cats NOT walk away from a half-full bowl? WHY do they eat anything and everything?

Posted on March 16, 2008

Tonja Pfister says: Too few new adopters understand the cat's palate - this is a clear, crisp summary in layman's terms that has helped several of our adopters. Thanks!

Posted on March 16, 2008

Tom Zabel says: I'm not sure how all this works with Dax. She seems to have some interesting preferences which none of our other cats have - things like schneken, donuts, havarti with dill cheese,etc. Oreo, another of our cats was, as a kitten and young cat particularly fond of key lime pie. Very strange.

Posted on March 16, 2008


Posted on March 16, 2008

Jacqueline Ross says: I can tell You that 9 out of 10 cats do not seem to like cat food that is sliced/prime filets,or any other chunky types of food, they seem to like only the 'ground'. I have many friends with cats and only 1 will eat the chunky brands. I find this interesting based on this article.

Posted on March 16, 2008

beverly beckham says: cats are finnicky cause we make them that way. any cat i have had in adult life seems to prefer fish, as a child, we grew up on a farm and through there was plenty to eat at times those farm cats got fed what ever was thrown out the back door, cause there was half a dozen cats, half a dozen dogs, chickens in the yard, this was in th fifties and sixties, and i dont guess there was cat or dog food then, as we carried many types of food scraps to the hogs also, as the slop sloshed out of heavy buckets, the cats eagerly ran along for anything that spilled, they ate with dogs,cows, hogs, chickens, u name it, and was glad to get it, a few fights ensued, but every animal got his fair share, now we treat our animals like little kids, they live in the house, and are pampered, so a finnicky cat is a non hungry cat,live on a farm, cats dive into anything, that is slung their way,times have changed, people worked like dogs on farms, u were ravenous at the end of the day, u usually and the animals ate early morn, and late afternoon, too much work to do to eat a huge meal at noon, noon might mean setting down for a short break and eating tomatoes out of the patch, or watermelons off the vine, yes cats ate that too, or chased mice in the fields, we as humans have gotten lazy, and farms are no longer plentiful, so cats like humans get finicky,become couch potatoes, and have little appetite except for junk, bring back the good old days, when people and cats stayed in the fields, nighttime there was no tv, so u went to bed and glad of it, the cats or dogs went to bed too, outside where God intended them to be, so its humans that have gotten finnicky and made our pets finnicky also. only thing i seen those farm cats turn down were onions, cabbage and pickles.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Nancy says: 1. There are still some people around who think cats don't have any feelings, that if they get new drapes it's OK to throw out their cat and get a new cat whose color matches the drapes better. 2. Another myth some people still believe is that it's cool to be able to brag to their friends that their cat will only eat asparagus (or some other fashionable non-cat food)and nothing else. Of course their cats die but even then they don't get the message, they just get another cat and try the same thing. Please mention these terribly cruel and fatal ideas in one of your articles, and make these people realize that animals have emotional and nutritional needs and they are not toys or little robots.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Carol Eilender says: Just thought you would like to know what my cat really goes crazy for. It is Ensure, a supplement milk product that you can use in feeding tubes to sustain life. My husband uses this product after an illness, gave a little to our cat and now every time he opens the can the cat drives him nuts for a morsel. Go figure.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Sharon Brinnier says: I have two Maine Coon cats. The make enjoyschewing on the plastic wrapping on the big packages of 12 rolls of toilet paper I buy. The female loves to chew on the sticky flaps of envelopes. Is there something missing in their diet that they are looking for? They are 7 years old and have had these quirks forever.They are strictly indoor cats.

Posted on March 16, 2008

L Hunt says: Twinks & Bootsie eat there dry food really well and alot, and are not fat. I give them a spoon full of soft can food at night for a treat before bed and they let me know when its time! They will not eat our human food, not even any kind of meat, but when it comes to tomatoes they are right there and begging for it?? When I am canning they come and steal it right out of my kettle!

Posted on March 16, 2008

WMF says: Article most informative. We have three cats and buy a variety of flavors. Sampson will get on the step stool and take a whiff of the freshly opened food. If he walks to the front door it means the food will not be eaten. If he goes to where his bowl will be, I know he approves. I thought they were just being obstinate.I will be more selective in the foods and more patient with what I thought to be primadonas.

Posted on March 16, 2008

Ronald Lamirande says: My cat Uselist will only eat 9 Lives dry and can Cat food. I have given him other brands of cat food and not one after he smelled them would he eat. Is there something extra put in 9 Lives that causes Uselist to only eat that brand of Cat food? Then again Uselist is a very different cat than any cat I had before. And I wonder if that also could be why he won't eat any other cat food except 9 Lives. Oh yes, Uselist does not like any can cat food with fish in it. Why Uselist is so different than other cats I had, is he is the only cat that I know of that loves riding in a vehicle. Also, he never uses a litter box unless he is in a vehicle and needs to go. He then stands on the cover of the litter box and meons. I open the cover, he goes and I put the cover back on the litter box. But at home, there is no litter box in the house for him to use because he rather go do it outside. Uselist when he needs to go, will go to the door and meon to let me know he needs to go and do it. Uselist is a inside and outside cat. In the daytime he stays outside and at night he stays inside. When I get home from work in the evening, I will stand on my deck and yell, "I don't hear a Uselist meon". Then out in the woods in front of our home, I will hear a meon. Then I will say, "I hear a Uselist meon. And Uselist will meon again. Everytime I say a Uselist meon when he is out in the woods, he meons. Not only that but he comes running to me with his tail straight up in the air. I never had a cat like Uselist in my life before and I would say over 50 cats since I was a child. Another thing about Uselist of when I seen it happening, put a lot of fear in me. Because I thought I was going to have a dead cat when it was happening. Uselist seen a Copperhead Snake in the driveway and he decided he was going to battle it. There was nothing I could do but watch him fighting that snake. The fight didn't last too long and Uselist killed that snake. I couldn't believe that Uselist was alive and never got bit and he killed that snake. Like I wrote, Uselist is a very different cat. He is not any of the special breed cats, just a orange and white tabby cat. How I got Uselist, he was a drop off kitten that somebody didn't want. At first I wasn't interested and left him outside. Then a big male cat in the neighborhood went after Uselist and tore the skin off of his left rear leg. I felt sorry for him and took him to a Vet. The first visit cost me $175.00 (there was visits after that of what included his shots). With his leg in a Cast, I took him into my home and he never left. That happen back in 1985. Uselist is dead now, killed by stray Beagles in my yard that somebody was running for hunting Deer. As they were ripping Uselist apart, I shot both of them. But it was too late, Uselist was dead. But Uselist only liked one brand of Cat food, 9 Lives as long as it wasn't of fish.

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