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Can Cats Taste Sweetness? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQs

cat eating ice cream
Image Credit: ANNA TITOVA, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Vet approved

	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most of us enjoy the taste of sweets to the extent that we can gain a few pounds, especially during the holidays, eating candy and other sugar-infused foods. Since sweets are a treat for us, it’s natural that they would be a treat for our cats as well. However, studies have proved that cats cannot taste sugar, and there is no point in giving it to them. Keep reading while we take a look at the facts in this study to see if we can learn something new and understand our pets a little better.

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Who Conducted These Taste Studies?

One of the studies that suggest that cats cannot taste sweets is brought to us by the Monell Center, an institution dedicated to learning more about the senses of taste and smell. It started in the late 1960s and has a vast database of knowledge. You can read much of what is available on their website. You can also find advice on improving your overall health, diagnosing and treating disease, and much more.

The Results Are Not Shocking

Most experts agree that the finds in the study are not entirely surprising. Cats seem to prefer other foods, like fish or salt, over sweets. Cats are also strict carnivores in the wild and will only eat the animals that they kill. Captive cats are primarily dry cat food containing (hopefully) high-quality meats, like chicken, beef, turkey, fish, duck, and others. Since cats do not naturally eat anything but the animals they kill, they are unlikely to develop the sensors to taste sweets.

feline cat eating on a metal bowl_Krakenimages.com_shutterstock
Image Credit:, Shutterstock


How Taste Works for Cats

The tongues of most mammals have tiny taste receptors on the surface. These receptors release proteins that bind with substances as they enter the mouth. Different proteins react to different tastes. Sweet tasting receptors will bind to sweets, while sour-tasting receptors will attach to sour foods. When the proteins leave the receptor, it sends a signal to the brain to know what the flavor is. Most foods have a complex list of ingredients that bind to several proteins at once, producing the overall flavor we can recognize as pizza or chocolate cake.

The number of receptors on each mammal tongue is directly related to the number of amino acid combinations that result in bitter-tasting genes. Some mammals like whales and dolphins have very few and can only taste salt. Humans have about 24 bitter-tasting genes. We can taste sour, bitter, sweet, salty, savoriness, and some experts say fat in different combinations and concentrations, allowing for millions of blends and flavors. Your cat has about seven of these bitter genes, and so has a much more limited ability to taste flavors.  In fact, cats lack the ability to taste sweets because of a defect in one of the genes that normally encodes for the sweet receptor.

Cat's taste receptors
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How Do We Know Cats Can’t Taste Sugar?

Scientists have narrowed our ability to taste sweets to a pair of bitter-tasting genes called Taz1r2 and Taz1r3. These genes are present in all other mammals but Taz1r3 is defective in cats, and it’s not just the house cat that is affected. It’s all felines, from the lion to the panther. Not having these genes in their DNA prevents them from tasting sugar the way we do.

Why Do We Have Bitter-Tasting Genes?

While no one is positive, most experts believe the bitter-tasting genes developed to protect animals from poisoning. Omnivores like humans will eat plants and animals and need a better-developed taste to detect harmful compounds. Sweet food tends to be safe to eat and good for us, while bitter and sour foods are often poisonous.

Cats do not eat different berries and plants, so they are unlikely to be accidentally poisoned by them. However, they probably have a good sense of whether the meat they are eating is good, and they can be quite picky.

Russian Blue Cat Eating_shutterstock_slawomir.gawryluk
Image Credit By: slawomir.gawryluk, Shutterstock

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Unfortunately, your cat cannot enjoy sugar the way we do, but it’s probably for the best. Cats can be quite demanding, and owners usually give in to their demands. The high-fat treats available to them already put them at risk of obesity and a host of health problems. If they were eating sugar, obesity would be more rampant, and the sugar would be terrible for your cat’s teeth. With more than 50% of the cats over 4 years of age having some form of dental disease, we don’t need to add to the problem by offering sugar.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this look into the Monell Center’s study. If you have learned something new, please share this guide to a cat’s inability to taste sugar on Facebook and Twitter.

Featured Image Credit: ANNA TITOVA, Shutterstock

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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