How does your pet choose the food it likes?

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Commercial pet foods are usually available in a variety of flavors and textures (eg, kibble or canned). Pet foods are made with these options to match pet parent preferences, but also because your pet may have preferences for the type and flavor of food they like. But what exactly influences what food your pet prefers (or at least what it will or will not eat)? Let’s find out.

Taste is a small part

Cats and dogs have a weak sense of taste compared to humans because they have fewer taste buds – cats have around 470, dogs around 1700 and people have around 9000 taste buds. Dogs can taste sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors, but dogs (and cats) generally don’t like bitter tastes, which is why they’re often used in taste repellents.

Unlike humans, dogs and cats can taste water. Cats can also taste the energy compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is believed to tell cats they are eating meat – an important signal since they are obligate carnivores. Another big difference between the taste bud groups of a cat and those of a dog and a human is that cats cannot taste sweet things. A horrifying thought for human chocolate addicts!

A tasty aroma

When we eat food, about three quarters of the flavor we experience actually comes from the smell of the food. Flavor works the same way for cats and dogs, so even though they don’t have as many taste buds as we do, they make up for that with their far superior sense of smell.

If your pet prefers canned food to kibble, it may be because most canned food has a strong smell, which makes it more appealing to cats and dogs. It can definitely create a pungent aroma in the kitchen when you open the box! But taste and smell aren’t the only influences on food preferences – there’s one more thing.


Cats and dogs will also show preferences for food texture or “mouthfeel”. Have you met someone who doesn’t eat mashed potatoes because they don’t like the texture? Similar preferences can occur in cats and dogs – they may prefer the feel of certain foods in their mouths over others, which includes kibble shape and size. Bonus fact – some dogs are thought to eat grass because they like the taste and texture of chewing it, not because they feel sick.

Nutrition first, then taste

At Diamond Pet Foods, we prioritize our choice of flavors based on nutritional goals, public demand and ingredient sustainability. Nutrition, not taste, is always the top priority for our nutritionists and veterinarians when formulating dog and cat food. But, of course, it must also taste good for pets to benefit from nutritious food, so flavor is an important part of our formulation considerations.

New tastes and textures take time

If you need to switch your pet to a new food, the trick is to make the transition slowly. This will help them adjust to the flavor and/or texture of the new food, and it will help reduce the risk of stomach upset, as their digestive tract also adjusts to the new food.

First, check with your veterinarian that the new food is suitable for your pet. Start by mixing 25% new food with 75% old food for a few days, then gradually increase the amount of new food over the next 10-14 days until you get 100% new food. If you’re switching from canned or wet food to kibble, the process may take longer because dry food tastes different. And texture. You can try mixing some wet food into the kibble or adding a little water to encourage your pet to eat it.

It is also important not to give in too quickly to animals that refuse to eat their new food. If your cat or dog doesn’t eat their food right away, let the bowl sit for a while. If you rush in and give them a well-done filet mignon (NOT RECOMMENDED!) because they didn’t eat their food right away, they’ll learn this trick pretty quickly. Soon you will find yourself with a very expensive grocery bill and your pet will not be getting the nutrition it needs by eating a complete and balanced diet.

However, if your pet hasn’t eaten for 24 hours, contact your veterinarian. They will make sure there are no medical conditions causing your cat or dog to lose their appetite. This is especially important for cats because if they don’t eat for more than 36 hours they can develop fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), which can be life-threatening.

Your pet’s preferences for what foods they will and will not eat are complex, just like ours. It is therefore possible, for example, that if you have two dogs, they prefer different foods because of taste, smell or texture.

RELATED POST: Busting the Pet Myths: Dog Food and Cat Food Aren’t the Same Food

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