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Can Cats Taste Sweetness

Orange tabby cat looking at sugary sweet cupcakes with pink icing

Having a sweet tooth is one of life’s joys. Most of us have favorite sweets we depend on when we need an emotional boost. Life would be a bitter place without sweets.

It's natural to want to share those with our cats. But can cats taste sweetness? And are sweets safe for your cat to eat?

Scientists, veterinarians and cat experts who have studied the question say the answer is complex. This blog will explain exactly what the latest science and studies have to say about cats and tasting sweet foods.

Can Cats Taste Sweetness?

Gray cat sniffing a sugar sweet donut to see if the cat can taste sweetness

To understand the answer, we have to understand how animals in general taste what they eat. Many animal species experience flavors differently from other species. It’ not one-size-fits-all when it comes to how animals, including humans, taste what we eat.

According to Forbes, for example, some whales and dolphins can only taste salt. And pandas, which at some point in their evolution began to focus on a bamboo diet, have lost the ability to taste umami, which is the meaty or savory taste of certain foods.

How Do Cats Taste Foods?

We already know cats are special. And that holds true when it comes to how cats taste. Turns out, cats have slightly different tasting genes compared to other mammals.

Cute white cat sniffing donut

It’s all about the taste buds and taste receptors that enable the brain to recognize certain flavors. To taste and enjoy sweetness, animals need two specific taste receptors, which consist of proteins inside cells of an animal’s taste buds.

In a 2006 study highlighted by Spuce Pets, researchers confirmed that two taste receptor genes, known as Tas1r3 and Tas1r2, are necessary for mammals to experience sweetness.

Alas, cats only one have one of these. So, the answer to the question can cats taste sweetness is, essentially, no.

Infographic with facts concerning cat cats taste sweetness

That doesn’t mean cats are completely unable to taste sweetness. Cats can taste some sweetness but only in extremely high concentrations. Even then, the sweet sensation isn’t the same as experienced by humans and other mammals.

Some cats also give the appearance that they like sweets despite being unable to taste them. When you are enjoying one of your delicious human sugary treats, often you will see your cat trying to get a taste or even steal it off the kitchen counter.

But this is not because they like the taste of the sweet. More often than not cats are attracted to the fat and protein contained in the sweet food. Cats are also naturally curious and predators, known to snatch and horde everything from donuts to socks. But they are not going after your sugary snack for the sweet taste.

This is true for the entire feline kingdom. Whether it’s lions, cougars or cheetahs, they all lack the taste receptors for sweetness.

But don’t think that makes your cat deficient. Cat owners know all cats are perfect. Just because cats lack one sweetness-tasting gene doesn’t make our cats any less perfect.

In fact, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why cats evolved in a way that left them unable to taste sweetness.

We’ll explain that reason below.

Why Cats Don’t Need to Taste Sweetness

Cat reaching for piece of meat to eat on a plate

Humans and many other mammals are omnivores. That means we eat a wide variety of foods and need to be able to detect a range of flavors to determine what’s safe to consume and what isn’t.

Bitter, for example, can mean poison except in very small doses. So, we’re naturally careful with bitter and will quickly spit out anything that’s too bitter. Sweet generally means safe to eat and rich in the energy we need to survive.

Cats, on the other hand, are natural carnivores. Your tiny house predator has evolved on a meat-only diet, and sweet comes from plants. As noted in a piece by cats.org.uk, our feline friends simply don’t have the same biological necessity to consume carbohydrates or sugar.

Can Cats Eat Sweets?

The answer to the question can cats eat sweets is, like all things cat, somewhat complex.

Modern refined sugars aren’t considered poisonous to cats. But cats that consume modern sugars can experience a range of issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting, ranging from mild to severe.

Large cat beside a small piece of cake on a plate

This is because their digestive systems lack the enzymes necessary to break down sugars. Their systems can, therefore, become overwhelmed and experience gastrointestinal problems.

Large volumes of sugars are also not a natural part of a carnivore’s diet. Feeding your cat sweets can result in health issues similar to those experienced by humans who eat lots of sugar.

A better question to ask than can cats eat sweets is should cats eat sweets. And the answer to that question is no.

Giving your cat sweets is a bad idea not only because their bodies aren’t equipped to metabolize modern sugars, but many modern sweets contain additives that are extremely toxic to cats. Many of our favorite sweet foods are also dangerous for cats.

Chocolate is among humans’ favorite sweet foods and is extremely toxic to cats. Chocolate consumption can result in serious health issues and sometimes death in cats.

Grapes and raisins are also dangerous for cats and can cause very serious health problems.

Many sweets also contain artificial sweeteners, such as Xylitol, which are also very harmful to cats. Such artificial sweeteners can cause liver damage, seizures and sometimes death.

Always best to consult a veterinarian when it comes to your cat’s diet, but it’s a safe bet to let your cat get their carbohydrates through cat foods designed specifically for the feline diet.

What Can Cats Taste?
Two cats being handed a bowl of cat food

If cats are unable to taste sweet things, then what can they taste? Can they taste spicy? Can they taste sour?

While cats have just under 500 taste buds compared to 9,000 in humans and 1,700 in dogs, our feline friends can experience a wide variety of different tastes. Cats can taste flavors that are salty, bitter, sour and umami, which is a savory, meaty taste.

Cats are particularly attuned to bitterness, which helps them avoid toxins in the wild.

Like sugars, cats haven’t developed the ability to taste spicy foods in the way we do. They can feel the sensation of a spicy food but not taste as we are accustomed.

Spicy foods are also not good for cats. Many spicy foods are flavored with capsaicin, which is an active component of chili peppers. Capsaicin consumption by cats can cause health issues, including gastrointestinal problems.

In Summary

Don’t feel bad because your cat can’t share your favorite dessert. There is a world of food options available to cats and cats are highly attuned to detect and enjoy those foods which are natural to their diet.

So next time you want to give your cat a lick of your ice cream, reach for a more traditional cat treat. Your cat will love you just as much and be healthier for it.