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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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The Gustatory Sense (Taste)

Thursday, January 4th, 2007 by Mike Cronk

In evolutionary terms, the sense of taste helped dogs differentiate harmful, indigestible or poisonous substances (bad taste) from that which was nutritious and digestible (good taste).  Because it is essential for survival, taste is one of the earliest senses developed in dogs.


Taste is the sensation detected by olfactory receptors (taste buds) when saliva dissolves the chemicals in food.  In this area, we have dogs beat—by a long shot.  We average about 9,000 taste buds compared to only 1,700 in dogs.  Taste buds die out in only a few days and are constantly being replaced but this process wanes dramatically as dogs get older and results in a loss of taste sensitivity.

Dogs are omnivores and although they eat primarily meat in the wild, they will also eat and enjoy fruits, nuts and vegetable matter.  Consequently, their taste buds react positively to a variety of foods.  On the other hand, the cat is primarily a carnivore and its taste buds are virtually useless when it comes to other sources of food.  Hence, the cat’s digestive system has evolved to have difficulty digesting anything but meat.

Food needs to be dissolved in saliva before it can be tasted so moistening food with water enhances taste.  Warm water enhances the odor of food more than cold.  While dogs have a sweet tooth and love meat, they have an aversion to sour taste—that’s why bitter-tasting sprays were developed to keep dogs from chewing.

If you’ve read the Sense of Smell article you know that when you get right down to it, the dog’s sense of taste takes such a back seat to the sense of smell that it might as well not exist!  When I shared a piece of steak with my Danes, they anticipated the pleasure so much from smelling it that they gulped it down—forget chewing and savoring the taste.  You could hardly take a chance of handing it to them—they were liable to take a few fingers too!  In terms of living in a pack, this behavior makes a lot of sense.  Making sure they get their share to fill their stomach becomes more important than whether it tastes good!

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