Most cat owners will know that their moggy's tongue has a peculiar texture but until new work from the Monell Chemical Senses Center none could have known that the feline glossal organ of taste has at least seven functional bitter taste receptors. Gary Beauchamp and colleagues explain that a sense of taste evolved so that animals could make the critical decision of whether a potential food is nutritionally advantageous or possibly harmful, sugars taste nice and sweet whereas toxins are often bitter tasting. Cats, however, cannot taste sweet things perhaps because they are exclusively carnivorous and never choose to eat sugary things like fruits and vegetables. But, if bitter detectors are present to detect toxins in plants why didn't cats lose the ability to taste bitter foods too? It could be that cats retained the ability to detect lots of potentially harmful bitter compounds on the skin and in the guts of their prey. The work could explain why cats are notoriously picky eaters and help manufacturers improve the recipes for pet food.
Cats and good taste