Do cats have taste buds?

Cats have gained the reputation for being finicky eaters. A cat parent would go to the extent of providing the pet with savoury and palatable home cooked meals to entice the pet to eat. Some cat owners would be successful…others would not be. Due to being picky eaters, cat owners would therefore ask if it is possible for cats to have no taste buds. Cats, just like dogs have taste buds. These pets though are dubbed as choosy eaters because compared to humans and dogs, cats have relatively few taste buds.

Cats have the sensory organs called taste receptor cells that are clustered in taste buds. On the tongue’s surface are the taste bud pores that allow molecules and ions of food dissolved by saliva to get to the receptor cells so that the five elements of taste perception which are sour, bitter, sweet, salty and umami can be detected. The sensory organs called taste buds allow us humans to enjoy the sweet flavour of ice cream or to grimace at the sour taste of lemon. Humans have about 9000 taste buds. These taste buds that provide us humans the sense of taste are found on the tongue, on the palate and on the throat. What about cats? Considering the finicky eating habits of these animals, do cats have taste buds too?

Cats have taste buds but they are not as numerous as the taste buds we humans have. Cats have excellent sense of hearing and sense of smell but when it comes to the sense of taste, humans have one over these feline friends. Cats actually have 473 taste buds. This is the reason why cats do not have very sensitive sense of smell. Cats have a unique tongue that they use in many ways. We know cats to be fastidious groomers. The tongue with its backward facing spines called papillae is used like a brush that removes dirt and even parasites from the fur. The tongue efficiently removes feathers and hair from preys so that the cat can easily eat the meat. A cupped tongue serves as a spoon that allows cats to lap water more efficiently. At the tip and sides of the cat’s tongue are mushroom shaped papillae that contain microscopic clusters of taste buds. A cat’s tongue has three types of papillae. The mushroom or fungi shaped papillae found on the tip and sides of the tongue have the largest taste buds. Four or six cup shaped vallate papillae are found at the back of the tongue. This type of papillae also holds taste buds. At the center of the cat’s tongue are filiform papillae. These papillae though do not contain taste buds. These taste buds vary in sensitivity. It was once believed that cats cannot taste sweets. Cats appear to love meats. Even well fed cats would try to have a bite of the meat on the on the plate of the owner. Cats though would not be enticed to have a bite of the cake or to lick the candy dropped by the kid. Scientists that have studied feline taste buds have proven that cats can taste sweets.

Compared to other animal species, cats have relatively few taste buds but cats have an excellent sense of smell that enhances these animals’ tasting ability. On the roof of the cat’s mouth is the Jacobson’s organ. This organ that is connected to the nasal passage acts as an evaluator. The food laid in front of the cat will be smelled and depending on the evaluation made the Jacobson’s organ, the cat would either eat or turn away from the food. Cats don’t need taste buds to have a taste test as the smell of the food would be enough. This is why cat owners are advised to serve hot meals to cats that have poor appetites.