Cats are known for being finicky and independent, but did you know that they also have different food preferences than dogs and other animals? A new study shows that cats tend to choose foods with higher carbohydrate and lower protein content when flavor is not a factor, while dogs prefer fat over carbs.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, involved 17 cats and 27 dogs that were offered four types of food with varying levels of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. The researchers removed the flavor from the food by adding a substance that blocked the animals’ taste receptors. They then measured how much of each food the animals ate over 28 days.
“Once flavor was taken out of the equation, cats on average chose to get 43% of their calories from carbs and 30% from protein, while dogs preferred fat (41%) over carbs (36%),” said Dr. Jean Hall, a professor at Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author of the study.
The findings challenge the common assumption that cats are strict carnivores that need high levels of protein in their diet. The researchers suggest that cats may have evolved to prefer carbs because they are easier to digest and provide quick energy.
However, this does not mean that cat owners should feed their pets low-protein foods. The researchers caution that cats still need adequate amounts of protein and other nutrients to stay healthy and prevent diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
“Appetite regulation is one of the determinants of palatability in cats and involves a highly complex interplay between hypothalamus, adipose tissue, and digestive tract. However, knowledge on this interplay is scarce in cats,” said Dr. Hall.
The study also highlights the importance of conducting food preference tests in cats using standardized methods and statistical analysis. According to a systematic review of previous studies, there is a great variation in the number of days, sample size, feeding times, and number of meals per day used in different tests.
“The sample size and test duration are critical factors in the decision making by the investigators about the design of food preference tests in cats. The use of a power test is recommended upon planning a food preference test protocol in cats,” said Dr. Kássia Pires, a researcher at São Paulo State University and the lead author of the review.
Food preference tests can help pet food manufacturers to produce high-quality foods that meet the needs and preferences of cats. However, cat owners should also pay attention to other factors that affect food palatability in cats, such as taste, texture, smell, temperature, and behavioral responses.
“When evaluating different foods for cats, behavioural responses such as facial expressions involving the movements and positions of ears, tongue, and head can provide increased insight into the effectiveness of formulating a more palatable diet,” said Dr. Ahmet Pekel, a professor at Ankara University and the lead author of another review on taste preferences and diet palatability in cats.
The reviews also mention some of the food additives that are commonly used by the pet food industry to enhance the palatability of cat foods, such as flavors, aromas, colors, and textures. However, these additives may not always be beneficial for the health and well-being of cats.
“In summary, a better understanding of the factors that affect the food preference in cats is essential to produce high-quality foods because cats will not eat a food with a flavour they dislike even though it is complete and nutritionally balanced,” said Dr. Pekel.
– New Study Shows Surprising Food Preferences Among Cats, Dogs, dvm360, 2021-12-14
– Full article: Taste preferences and diet palatability in cats, Journal of Applied Animal Research, 2020-07-01
– Factors affecting the results of food preference tests in cats, Research in Veterinary Science, 2020-06-01
– TIL Rats, gerbils, mice, birds, fish, monkeys, and chimpanzees all prefer making an effort to obtain their food over having it provided for free. Of all the studied animals, only cats did not display the behaviour, preferring to be served., Reddit, 2023-06-08