Cats Have Tastebuds Too. Do They Actually Taste Water?

Introduction

Cats have a strong sense of taste that allows them to detect a variety of flavors. However, they experience tastes differently than humans due to differences in their taste receptor genes and anatomy. While cats may not taste sweetness the same way humans do, they have a powerful sense of smell that also influences their perception of food and water. Water is an especially important part of a cat’s diet, as they need to stay hydrated to maintain their health. Understanding cats’ unique tasting abilities can help cat owners provide their pets with appealing food and water options.

Anatomy of the Feline Tongue

The tongue of a cat has a rough texture and is covered in small, backwards-facing spines called papillae [1]. These spines are made of a tough protein called keratin and they give the tongue its abrasive, sandpaper-like feel. There are several types of papillae on a cat’s tongue: filiform, fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate. The abundant filiform papillae provide roughness that helps cats groom and rasp meat from bones. Fungiform papillae contain the taste buds that allow cats to detect flavors such as sweet, sour, bitter, and salty [2].

Taste Receptor Genes

Cats have significantly fewer taste buds compared to humans. Humans have around 9,000 taste buds, while cats only have around 470 taste buds. This means cats experience a less complex sense of taste than humans.

In addition, researchers have discovered some key differences in feline taste receptor genes compared to humans. Cats lack a functional sweet taste receptor gene called Tas1r2, which detects sugary and sweet flavors [1]. This explains why cats generally show no preference for sugars and sweets. On the other hand, cats have a greater number of functional bitter taste receptor genes called Tas2rs compared to humans. One study identified 12 bitter receptor genes in cats, while humans only have around 6 [2]. This allows cats to better detect bitter, toxic compounds in potential food sources.

Overall, the feline sense of taste appears more attuned to identifying food hazards rather than experiencing a complex palate of flavors.

Sense of Smell

Cats rely more on their sense of smell than taste when investigating objects. A cat’s sense of smell is around 14 times stronger than that of humans (https://www.rover.com/blog/how-far-can-cats-smell/). Cats have over 200 million scent receptors compared to humans who only have 5 million. This allows cats to detect very faint odors unnoticeable to humans.

A cat’s strong sense of smell contributes greatly to their perception of flavor. Scent plays a key role in a cat’s experience of taste. Aroma from food is detected by olfactory receptors before the food enters the mouth. This information is processed by the brain and integrated with the actual taste detected on the tongue to create the overall flavor experience for cats.

Water Requirements

Cats need adequate water intake for proper kidney function. Their kidneys are small but highly efficient, filtering toxins from the bloodstream and producing urine to excrete waste products. Maintaining hydration supports healthy kidney function in cats.

The daily water requirement for cats is around 0.5-1 ounce of water per pound of body weight. For example, a 10 pound cat needs approximately 5-10 ounces of water per day. This equates to roughly one cup of water that they should consume from their water bowl, wet food, treats, etc. Cats that eat dry food exclusively generally require more water than those getting wet food in their diet. Monitoring your cat’s water intake and making fresh water readily available is important.

According to veterinary experts, signs of dehydration in cats include lethargy, loss of appetite, dry or sticky gums, and concentrated urine. Providing the right amount of clean water prevents dehydration and supports kidney health.

Water Preferences

Many cats prefer moving water sources like fountains over still water. While cats will drink tap water, many owners find their cats prefer the taste of bottled or filtered water instead.

The sound and motion of running water from a fountain can entice cats to drink more. Cats by nature prefer fresh flowing water as it appeals to their instincts from the wild, where still water sources could contain harmful bacteria.

Tap water often contains chlorine and minerals which can give it a metallic taste. Bottled waters can have added minerals for flavor, but typically taste cleaner and purer to cats. Filtered tap water removes chlorine and impurities, making it more palatable as well.

Cat owners can test bottled waters to see which ones their cat likes. Try a few different brands and see which is their favorite. This can encourage adequate hydration, especially for finicky cats. Providing fresh filtered water daily is ideal, though occasionally alternating tap water can ensure cats don’t get too picky.

Flavor Enhancements

Cats can be finicky about drinking plain water. Luckily, there are some tricks to make water more enticing for felines and encourage them to get the hydration they need.

One easy option is to add a bit of tuna juice or chicken broth to the water. As the experts at The Cat’s Meow Rescue explain, “Try flavoring your kitty’s water with some chicken broth, the liquid from a tin of tuna or sardines or some clam juice (sold in bottles at many grocery stores). The smell and taste of the additive will make the water more appealing to your cat.” (Source)

You only need to add a small amount – a few drops or teaspoons should do the trick. Alternating between a few different flavors can keep your cat interested. Some other options are fish broth or even tuna-flavored cat food mixed with water.

Another recommendation from vets is to add a pinch of catnip to the water. The alluring scent of catnip may entice cats to drink up. Just be sure not to add too much, as overdoing the catnip can have the opposite effect.

With a little creativity, you can discover flavorings your cat loves to transform plain water into a tasty treat. Just be sure any additives are cat-safe.

Dangers of Dehydration

Dehydration can be dangerous and even life-threatening for cats if left untreated. Some of the major risks associated with dehydration in cats include:

Increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs): According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, dehydration can lead to the formation of concentrated urine, which irritates the lining of the urinary tract and increases the risk of painful UTIs 1.

Kidney disease: Dehydration places increased strain on the kidneys to concentrate urine without sufficient fluid. Over time, this can lead to kidney disease, kidney stones or failure 2.

Constipation and vomiting: Without adequate fluid intake, cats may suffer from constipation. Vomiting can also occur as the body struggles to retain fluids, leading to a vicious dehydration cycle 1.

Providing Clean Water

Cats have sensitive palates, so it’s important to keep their water bowls clean. Bacteria and food residue can accumulate quickly in plastic bowls and affect the taste of the water. Ceramic or stainless steel bowls are recommended over plastic. According to https://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/how-often-should-i-wash-my-pets-food-bowls, bowls “can be effectively washed with hot, soapy water.” Washing food and water bowls frequently helps prevent the growth of bacteria that alters the taste and can make cats ill. Bowls should be washed at least once per day. For cats that are picky about their water, providing fresh, clean water daily in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl can help encourage proper hydration.

Conclusion

In summary, while cats do not taste sweetness, their sense of smell greatly impacts their perception of taste. They have a strong preference for cool, fresh water that is free of contaminants. Providing a fountain or fresh water bowl daily, away from food, is important. Try adding a splash of tuna juice or bone broth to enhance the flavor. Cats are susceptible to dehydration, so monitor their water intake. With an enriched water source, cats can stay happy and hydrated.

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