Watching my two canine eating machines go at food makes me wonder – do they even taste what they are eating? They both love to eat, and they seem to enjoy everything they put in their mouths with the equal pleasure. Whether it is the same dog food they have been eating all their lives, leftovers from dinner, cat puke, or a tasty morsel from the litter box, they love it all, and go at it with the kind of gusto that should be reserved for the chef’s special at a four-star restaurant. Or a pizza after a day of hiking in the mountains. (More on that in the blog.)
Watching them eat, you have to wonder if they even taste the food, and other stuff, or do they just like to eat. So I decided to check it out, since you can find anything on the internet these days, and sure enough, there it was. Dogs do have taste buds, just not as many as humans. Finally, we beat them at something. A dog’s sense of smell is a million times better than ours, they can hear things we can’t, they are faster and more agile than we are, but we have more taste buds than they do. Hah, up your nose Fido.
A dog has 1700 taste buds, far fewer than the 9000 taste buds in the human mouth. Don’t start feeling too superior; pigs and goats have 15000 taste buds, and a calf has 25000 of them. Which brings up the obvious question – what do pigs and goats need with taste buds? They eat anything and everything. All a calf does is drink milk, unpasteurized and right from the tap. When it grows up and becomes a cow, all it does is eat grass, then throw it up and eat it again. For that they need three times as many taste buds as humans? Cats, on the other hand only have 473 taste buds, so you have to wonder – why are they so finicky if they can’t even taste the food?
It is pretty certain that dogs get more input about what they are about to eat from their noses than by taste. It is thought that dogs can detect sweet, sour, salty and bitter, and while they don’t like bitter, the other three tastes seem equally acceptable. If they like the taste, or rather if the taste doesn’t offend them, they eat it. It is doubtful that dogs can discern subtle differences in the taste of food, such as "This is a little sweeter than usual" or "This could use a little salt"; it is more a case of "if it tastes good, eat it."
One area where cats do have an edge on dogs is in eating something that makes them sick. When a cat eats something that disagrees with it, the cat will remember and won’t touch that substance again for weeks. A dog that has the same problem will remember for maybe 24 hours, then eat the same thing again. OK, so maybe Garfield has a point.