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Does Food Taste Different to Cats and Dogs?

By Rose Springer

Does Food Taste Different to Cats and Dogs?

Though cats and dogs are the most common household pets in North America, the similarities practically end there. Their needs and preferences for food, water and socialization are quite distinct. Below, Illinois-based cat- and dog-nutrition expert Linda Case and Dr. Trisha Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists reveal some key differences.

Omnivore vs. Carnivore
As cats and dogs were becoming domesticated, they developed according to the food sources available to them. “The evolutionary history of the dog suggests a predilection for a diet that is more omnivorous in nature, while the history of the cat indicates that this species has consumed a purely carnivorous diet throughout its evolutionary development,” explains Case.

Cats evolved into meat-eaters that need a whole lot of protein (about 26 percent of their total caloric intake), but dogs can subsist on a more varied diet (only about 5 percent protein). Joyce says dogs can eat many different foods, but cats would have serious nutritional deficits because they require protein from meat.

Their taste buds differ as well. While both dogs and cats have a high proportion of taste buds that are sensitive to amino acid flavors (or proteins), only dogs respond to sweet foods. This means, for one, that you don’t have to hide that pan of brownies from your cat. “You have to be careful to keep a dog away from chocolate,” says Joyce. “It’s dangerous for them. Cats can’t metabolize it either, but the concern is not the same because they would never eat the massive quantities of it that a dog would.”

Pack Animal vs. Loner
Both dogs and cats become accustomed to eating at specific times, but only dogs seem influenced by the social setting of the meal. “Dogs tend to increase food intake when consuming food in the presence of other dogs in their social group,” says Case. “This process is called social facilitation.” For most dogs, social facilitation causes a moderate increase in interest concerning food, as well as a tendency to eat faster.

Dogs are so prone to the influence of others that even their owners can impact their food choices. In one study summarized by Case, a group of dogs had the choice between a small and a large portion of kibble. Most chose the large. But when their owners were brought in and the dogs watched as they chose the smaller plate, their own choice changed in the second trial, as they chose the tiny serving. A similar experiment used equal portions in two different bowls. Each dog was consistently more interested in whichever bowl its owner preferred.

Joyce adds that cats seem to be emotional eaters. “My clients often tell me that their cats go to the food bowl when they’re happy, like when the owner arrives home.”

Thirst vs. Dry Mouth
While both dogs and cats need an adequate supply of clean water, the definition of “adequate” differs between the two. “Dogs typically consume more water per unit body weight than cats do, and respond more rapidly to mild dehydration by voluntarily increasing their water consumption,” says Case.

Cats’ relatively weak thirst drive is attributed to their evolution from a desert-dwelling species. As a result of low water consumption, cats produce more concentrated urine than dogs, which helps to conserve the little water they do take in. However, it also leaves them at greater risk for bladder stones, rock-like deposits that can interfere with their ability to urinate, causing symptoms like blood in the urine and passing urine outside of the litter box.

One Meal a Day vs. Many
“Cats are natural grazers,” says Joyce, noting that it’s more common for cats to be on free-feed diets than dogs. The reason for this may be partly a function of anatomy. While the stomach of each animal acts as a reservoir for the body, allowing food to be ingested as a meal rather than continuously throughout the day, a dog’s stomach expands more readily. “The proximal section of the stomach is capable of expansion, a function that is assumed to be of greater importance for dogs, which tend to eat large meals at a given time,” says Case.

Keeping the above differences in mind, pet owners can rest assured that they are adhering to what nature intended -- and continues to insist on.

Rose Springer is a frequent contributor to The Daily Cat and The Dog Daily. She lives in New York City.  

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Posted on November 28, 2011

natalia says: i have a queston cats can eat dog food or it makes them sick

Posted on April 15, 2012

Lacy says: I know cats carnivores in the wild and mainly in domestic. Why do people say they prefer fish?

Posted on June 8, 2012

Fernand says: Your mother is ablsoutely right and why is she allowing you to do this?? I'm surprised you're asking this here when in two seconds you could find this answer on the internet. Your comment about how the pets really don't care . The pets don't KNOW what they should be eating as their owner YOU need to provide them the proper foods. If you had a young child and it didn't care that all there was to drink was vodka would you let him drink it?Cats require MUCH more protein and fat in their diet than dogs. Cats require food with a minimal 25-30% protein and 15-20% fat. Dogs require food with minimal 18% protein, 9-15% fat. And if you're feeding your dog a cheap food it probably has even LESS than what dogs require so even worse.Your cats will get very sick and severely malnourished if you keep feeding them dog food. Cats need a meat-based diet not dog food and not cheap grocery store food made mostly of corn. Please get them the food they need or rehome them with someone who will.

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