A new study recently came out that explains why so many cats are picky eaters. I’m not much on scientific jargon, but apparently it has something to do with cats having a high number of bitter taste receptors, all the better to detect – and reject – food that has off flavors. This suggests that cats, having such a discerning palate, will reject food that just doesn’t taste right to them.
That doesn’t explain my cat, Summer.
Summer is the opposite of a picky eater. She loves food – her own food, the other cats’ food, and any people food she can wheedle out of me or my fiancé. She has eaten broccoli when it has been offered to her (maybe her bitter taste receptors are broken), and one of her favorite treats is cantaloupe. Even I don’t like cantaloupe! My fiancé does, however, and he often puts it in his daily smoothie – and Summer gets a few small pieces from him. She will even eat it from a slice.
As you can see above, Binga does not share her enthusiasm about cantaloupe. I’ve never had a cat that cared about fruit of any sort before, but I’ve heard of other cats like Summer (apparently the cantaloupe thing runs in her family). Supposedly cats can’t taste sweet things, so what appeals to a cat isn’t the same thing that humans like about fruit. Maybe it’s one of the other elements contributing to the flavor, or something about the texture. Who knows? Some scientists will have to sit down and do some research about that.
In all honesty, I’ve never understood where the idea of cats being picky eaters came from. I’ve never had a healthy cat that was a picky eater. Unhealthy, yes – Sparkle was sick for the last few years of her life, and it was awful trying to find food that she had any enthusiasm for. Her rejection of most food, I’m sure, had more to do with feelings of nausea and queasiness than it did her number of bitter taste receptors. Whenever one of my cats has been “off her food,” it has always been because she wasn’t feeling well.
If a healthy cat is finicky, it also could be because he was not fed a variety of flavors and became used to the one type of food he was fed for years. Cats are hardwired for routine, and perhaps this includes their taste buds. Cats may gravitate to a certain flavor or texture out of habit – the shape of kibble, or pate canned over chunks. Or they prefer dry over canned, or canned over raw. A lot of it boils down to what the cat is used to. Humans are a little suspicious of anything new too, so this isn’t surprising.
The researchers say that their study about feline bitter receptors will help them create food that more cats will like. I wonder if that isn’t just a rather flimsy justification for the money spent on their research. I’ve found the best way to keep a cat from being a picky eater is to introduce her to different types and flavors of food early in life.
Are my cats and I the exception to the rule? Do you have a picky eater? Or do you have a foodie like Summer?