Dogs are very food-orientated animals, and they certainly seem to think with their stomachs and prioritise being fed above most other things! This naturally leads people to believe that dogs have very acute taste buds, more so than people, and that like their sense of smell, the dog’s sense of taste is very pronounced.
However, in reality, dogs are not particularly sensitive to different tastes, nor able to determine the nuances of different flavours of food as well as people are. While the taste buds of the dog do of course fulfil an important purpose and do allow the dog to taste, when you compare the dog to the human, you will see that Fido has in fact drawn the short straw!
Humans have around 9,000 taste buds in their mouths, while dogs have just 1,700, and the taste buds of the dog work rather differently to those of people too. This is partly due to the ways in which the domestic dog has evolved alongside of people, as well as their wild ancestry.
Read on to learn more about how the taste buds of the dog work, and what range of things they can taste.
In the wild, the bulk of the diet of the dog is ideally made up of meat, but when resources are short, dogs will also eat other things such as grains. Certain fruits and berries are also appealing to the dog, but out of choice, most dogs would go for a mainly meat menu with no grain, and the odd smattering of tasty fruit and veg that they can scavenge.
The dog actually has taste buds specifically designed to appreciate various compounds within meat and meat flavoured products, which are fine-tuned so that the dog will find meat, meat fat and meat by-products appealing.
The dog’s sense of taste not only allows them to enjoy and savour the things that they like and that are good for them, but they also help the dog to detect when something is potentially dodgy or likely to pose a danger to them. The other taste buds your dog possesses can detect sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavours, and bitter flavours in particular are unpalatable to the dog. Poisonous plants and other dangerous matter tend to taste bitter, and as such, this helps the dog to survive by making things that may harm them naturally unappealing to them.
Dogs are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, which goes some way to explaining why bitter-flavoured sprays are so effective at stopping dogs from chewing on things. As a general rule, dogs do not enjoy bitter flavours of any type, although in some dogs, their taste buds for bitter flavours are not particularly strong, as they are located towards the back of the tongue, and are only reached towards the later stages of mastication.
Most of us think of water as being the ultimate flavourless compound, but the dog not only has taste buds that allow them to taste water, but that actually help them to detect it. Because a high protein diet such as one that is rich in meat tends to have a high salt content, being attuned to water in this way plays an important role in helping the dog to stay hydrated.
The sense of smell is very strongly tied to the sense of taste, and unlike their sense of taste, the dog’s sense of smell is much more sensitive than that of people. Smell plays a large role in how enticing or otherwise any given food product will be to the dog, and many things that actually have little to no taste of their own will appeal to your dog’s nasal receptors and raise their appeal.
The stronger a desirable smell is, the more likely your dog is to find it appealing to eat, which is why many dogs will scavenge for things that we as people find disgusting, such as fox pooh and road kill!
As your dog enters maturity and old age, their appetite for food will tend to drop off a little. This is both a reflection of the fact that your dog is less likely to be as active as they were in their youth, and the fact that their senses of both smell and taste will become less acute.
If your aging dog seems to find their food less appealing or they are not as keen for treats as they were previously, try offering them things that are strongly fragranced, as it might simply be a case of their senses of smell and taste becoming less effective with age.