Do Dogs Have Taste Buds?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz July 10, 2020
Dogs and humans are both mammals and share many similarities when it comes to our anatomy and physiology. However, through the course of evolution, our sensory capabilities have changed over time. Some of our senses became stronger or weaker depending on how useful they were to our survival. This has led to differences in the ability to taste between dogs and humans. By understanding what our dogs can taste and what they prefer, we can ensure they are enjoying and staying interested in what we feed them.
Do Dogs Have Taste Buds?
Yes, dogs have taste buds. One similarity between dogs and humans is that we both have taste buds! They are found in small bumps on the top surface of the tongue called papillae. Taste buds also exist in other places as well, such as on the roof of the mouth and at the back of the mouth where the throat begins (Yamamoto et al., 1997). Tase bud cells form connections with the nervous system to send information about taste to the brain (Kanazawa, 1993). The ability to taste encourages animals to seek out and eat nutritionally beneficial and calorie dense food and helps them avoid eating anything that is spoiled or rotten that could make them sick. While both humans and dogs have taste buds, humans have around 9,000 whereas dogs only have around 1,700 (Uemura, 2015).
What Flavors Can Dogs Taste?
Humans and dogs share the same primary taste receptors. However, dogs have the ability to taste some additional compounds that we cannot!
There is evidence that dogs can taste sweet things. They possess a sugar-activated ion-transport pathway that is linked to sugar transduction (Mierson et al., 1988). In other words, they have the anatomy necessary to sense sugars and relay that information to the brain. Further studies have discovered that certain salts can actually enhance the responses to various sugars (Kumazawa and Kurihara, 1990a). This information comes in handy for creating dog food that our dogs will love eating.
The source of a sour taste comes from acidic stimuli. A rejection response to sour tastes may serve to discourage dogs from eating food that has been spoiled by acid producing bacteria (DeSimone et al., 2001). Researchers have detected taste receptors that detect acidic compounds on the dog’s tongue, suggesting that dogs can taste sourness (Simon and Garvin, 1985).
It is believed that dogs can perceive saltiness. Scientists have discovered the presence of amiloride-blockable sodium channels on the tongues of dogs (Avenet and Lindemann, 1988). Through recordings from the sensory nerve of the tongue and sensory experiments on humans, it was concluded that these structures on the tongue do aid in the ability to taste salt (Heck et al., 1984).
Evidence suggests that dogs can perceive bitter tastes as well. Through genetic testing, it has been shown that dogs have genes for bitter taste receptors. It is believed that bitter taste perception is essential for animals in avoiding toxic and harmful substances (Go, 2006).
Umami can be described as a savory taste. This flavor is characteristic of broths and meats. Research has shown that dogs have a taste response to umami substances that closely resemble those in humans (Kumazawa and Kurihara, 1990b). The taste system of dogs has been shown to be sensitive to umami substances and showed a synergism between MSG (Monosodium glutamate) with GMP (guanosine monophosphate) or IMP (inosine monophosphate), which are all chemical components associated with the umami taste (Kurihara and Kashiwayanagi, 2000). Additional, chemical components associated with the pleasant taste of umami are amino acids and peptides. Boudreau et al. (1985) found that dogs have a sensitive taste to amino acids, which could be one reason they are so drawn to eating meat.
Additionally, it has been shown that dogs have a receptor mechanism that allows them to taste water. It is believed that it is integrated in the systemic feedback loops of ionic and osmotic regulation along with salty and sour tastes (Lindemann, 1996). In other words, desiring the taste of water helps ensure dogs drink enough water to maintain a healthy functioning body.
What Tastes Do Dogs Like And Dislike?
Dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat foods from animal and plant origins. Fruits and vegetables are tasty because of their sugar content. Consequently, dogs tend to love sweet flavors and will stay away from salty, sour, and bitter foods. A desire for sweetness and umami flavors encourage dogs to seek out high-calorie and nutritious food. A dislike of sour and bitter foods encourages dogs to only eat foods that are safe for them. One study by Grace and Russek (1969) examined a group of dogs’ preferences for a variety of solutions with different tastes including salty (saline), sweet (sucrose), and bitter (quinine). They found that dogs showed a strong rejection to the bitter tasting solution, a mild rejection to the salty solution, and a strong preference for the sweet solution. In the same study, they tested puppies for their preferences and found they ranked their preferences in the same order, suggesting that taste preference may be congenital.
How Do I Know My Dog Likes The Taste Of Something?
Your dog’s wiliness to eat something can indicate whether or not they like the taste. In science, researches use preference tests which allow animals to choose between a variety of presented options. It is assumed that the resource that the animals choose more often, consume more of, or spend more time with is preferred (Kirkden and Pajor, 2006). Therefore, if your dog gets excited for certain foods and eats them quickly, then it can be assumed that they enjoy the taste of those things.
Why Does My Dog Seem Reluctant To Eat Their Food?
There are a few factors that can cause your dog to be reluctant from eating their food.
- Bored of the same food
Dogs can become bored of eating the same dry food day after day. So switching up their food may bring back their appetite. You could also try adding wet food to the top of their dry food to encourage them to eat. Heating their food may also help make it more aromatic and some dogs may prefer to eat their food warmed. However, you should avoid changing your dog’s food too often or if it is not necessary since it can lead to gastric distress.
- Stale food
Your dog may become averse to food that has gone stale. Try to store food in airtight containers to keep them fresh and avoid purchasing food in bulk that will sit in your home for a long time.
- Dull sense of smell and taste from aging
As dogs age, they may lose their sense of smell and taste which causes them to lose interest in their food. Try adding in foods with stronger tastes or smells to reinvigorate them.
- Hot weather
Finally, dogs may be less willing to eat in hot weather conditions. If they are drinking large quantities of water to stay cool, they may be less likely to want to eat as their stomachs feel full.
How Can Taste Be Used In Dog Training?
More and more evidence suggest that positive reinforcement training is the most effective form of training and one that is best for our dog’s welfare. As this training becomes more popular, we are gaining knowledge on how taste preference can be used to help us select the most desirable food rewards for training. A study examining working dogs during training found that they completed tasks more quickly when their preferred reward type was presented (Stokke, 2014). This shows that dogs are much more motivated to participate in training when a tasty reward is waiting. We have learned that dogs prefer sweet and umami flavors, so choose treats that possess those flavors when training. Many trainers save highly desirable foods, such as cheese and hotdogs, for use in training sessions in order to keep their dogs motivated and engaged. Keep in mind that the preference of each dog depends on the individual. Some prefer the same treat over and over again, while others prefer the food reward to be varied otherwise they may lose interest in it over time (Bremhorst et al., 2018).
In summary, dogs can taste sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami just like humans can. In addition, they have receptors that allow them to taste amino acids and water. Additionally, dogs have much fewer taste buds than humans, suggesting their sense of taste is much weaker. However, their nose is exceptionally powerful and is likely to play a role in their ability to taste. Finally, by paying attention to our dog’s personal food preferences, we can ensure that they enjoy their meals and have extra special treats to look forward to during training sessions.
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