When we see dog food or treats at the pet store, with flavors like peanut butter, beef, honey, cranberry and other interesting combinations, it can be easy to think that our dogs have a very refined palate. This is especially confusing when your dog also seems to like eating any piece of food she finds on the ground.
The truth is that this marketing is mostly for the humans that are buying the food. Dogs can taste, but it is a little different how we taste our food. Dogs rely more heavily on their sense of smell to understand what they are eating. The science behind how dogs taste and smell can help you understand how they interpret food, why they might stop eating, and what you can do to keep your dog happy with their daily diet.
Like people, dogs have taste buds for the four main food groups. The difference is that a human has about 9,000 taste buds, while dogs have only 1,700. Your dog still tastes all the same flavors as you do, including:
Dogs can also have specific taste buds for water. We taste flavors in water, but dogs can taste water itself. These taste buds are most likely a survival method to remind dogs in the wild to consume water after eating the salty or dehydrating meal.
While your dog does get some flavor, her taste buds alone are limited. For instance, she cannot tell the difference between meats if she doesn't also have her sense of smell, although she can determine if something is or is not meat based on taste.
The sensory capabilities that dogs lack in taste buds are made up in their olfactory nerves. Dogs have approximately 125 million sensory clams in their noses. A person has less than 10 million, making a dog’s nose up to 100,000 times more powerful than yours.
The sense of smell is what indicates to a dog that something might be tasty, which is why she is as likely to go for the hamburgers you just cooked on the grill as she is for some trash she found on the sidewalk. Both have very intense smells for her and any bad taste will not be nearly as extreme as it is for you.
When you have a picky dog that does not seem to like the kibble you put down, there could be a few reasons. Dogs still have distinct food preferences like we do. These preferences are simply based on smell and taste. Another reason is that an older dog’s sense of smell fades as she ages and she might start to find food less appetizing.
Increasing the scent of your dog's food can often make it more palatable to a picky dog. You can do this by:
Although dogs perceive their food very differently from the way we do, their combination of taste and smell still gives them distinct preferences over foods in the same way. Taking some time to find out what your dog likes best to make mealtimes more enjoyable for both of you.