How well can cats taste in relationship to people?
The structure of a cat’s tongue is fundamentally different from a person’s tongue in terms of taste bud arrangement because cats use this organ in very different ways. For a cat, his tongue is a tool, used both in grooming and in managing prey consumption.
A cat’s tongue is primarily covered with small hooked barbs that point backwards. Cats use their tongues to remove the obstructing parts of their prey, like feathers and fur, and to efficiently take meat off bones. These same sandpaper-like barbs serve the cat as a grooming tool, catching and extracting loose fur from the coat during licking.
Consequently, cats have very few taste buds in relation to humans, about 473 to our 9,000. (Dogs have 1,700.) Cats can distinguish among the various flavors, but they have very few receptors for “sweet,” just a few taste buds at the back of their tongues.
While there is a long-standing perception that cats are finicky eaters, this really has little to do with taste, since their flavor palate is so limited. If a cat does not care for food, it is likely more an issue of smell or texture than of taste. In some cases, the bowl may even be the problem.
Cats with long whiskers do not like the unpleasant sensation of these highly sensitive organs rubbing against the high sides of a bowl and will often eat just fine if the meal is served on a plate.