Evolution may explain why your cat is a fussy eater

Cats eat from a food dispenser filled up by volunteers from Animal Heart Protectors on Furtada Island, popularly known as “Island of the Cats,” in Mangaratiba, Brazil, in October.

Cats are notoriously picky eaters compared to their canine counterparts.

While a dog will seemingly eat just about anything, domestic cats need everything to be just right.

A 2015 study by Michelle Sandau, Jason Goodman, Anu Thomas, Joseph Rucker and Nancy Rawson points to some explanations as to why this is often the case. The study, published in BMC Neuroscience, found that cats are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes.

While cats have about 8,000 fewer taste buds compared to humans, researchers believe certain cat taste receptors evolved to help them avoid toxins that can be found in spoiled meat and various plants.

Since cats are carnivores, some have questioned why their receptors have evolved this way compared to their herbivore and omnivore counterparts.

“The prevailing hypothesis is that the ability to detect bitter tastants has evolved because of its utility in avoidance of toxic compounds often found in plants, yet obligate carnivores consume little to no plant material,” the study’s conclusion pointed out.

“Domestic cats have the opportunity to encounter bitter compounds through numerous sources including eating plants, the plant constituents present in the gastrointestinal tract of prey, grains and flavors present in pet food as well as medicines,” it continued. “A concern arises when a household cat is ill and either a specialized food or medicine is prescribed and refused. Pet owners and veterinarians desire strategies that will increase the consumption of nutrients and medicines when needed.”

Cats’ aversion to certain tastes is similar to their apprehension about still water, which they tend to avoid knowing that stagnant water isn’t always safe. Both are part of their survival instincts.

Texture plays a big role in whether a cat will eat something, as well. Stray feral cats will often take what they can get, but many house cats tend to have high standards in this regard.

But remember, wild cats of all sorts get most of their water from the blood of their prey, which is why they often prefer wet food. Finding the right food for your cat’s preferences is key to encouraging them to eat well and stay hydrated.

Some cats prefer pates, while others like chunky textures. It usually isn’t too hard to find what your cat prefers after a bit of shopping around.

Reach Press staff writer Brandon Paykamian at bpaykamian@johnsoncitypress.com