A Matter of Taste: Why Dogs Love Sweets

Because at The Animal Medical Center every day is take your dog to work day, I know a quite a bit about the dogs who work here.

Bitsy, a nearly 4-year-old Maltese, likes sweets, especially apples. She doesn’t like more neutral foods such as carrots, and don’t come near her if you have just juiced a lemon. Bitsy’s love of sweets is not unusual. In fact, many dogs like sweets, as evidenced by the number of dogs seen for chocolate ingestion by our Emergency Service.

Treatment for ingestion of toxic substances is not unique to The AMC’s canine patients. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports 85% of the calls they receive are about dogs, many of them for ingesting toxic foods.

On the other hand, we almost never examine a cat for eating too many sweets. Cats seem to prefer moving food, perhaps due to their predatory nature. They will pounce on that pill you accidently drop on the floor or gnaw your spider plant down to a stump when the leaves are waving in the breeze from an open window. What accounts for this big difference between our two favorite companion animals?

Anatomically speaking, dogs and cats both have taste buds that can be seen on a tongue biopsy. But these taste buds may not be as sensitive to taste as ours are and many believe dogs and cats choose their food more by smell than by taste.

Both dogs and cats belong to the order Carnivora, but cats and dogs belong to different families within the order Carnivora. Cats belong to Felidae, which is a group of 36 different species of obligate carnivores, and dogs belong to Canidae, a group of 35 different species of omnivores—animals that eat both plants and meat. The fact that dogs are more flexible eaters may account for their ability to recognize different flavors in their food. Domestic and wild cats carry the gene for the sweetness receptor, but due to a mutation in the gene which makes the sweet detecting apparatus nonfunctional, cats cannot detect sweetness even if they eat a sweet food.

Similar mutations were discovered in other exclusively meat-eating animals, such as dolphins.

So the next time you find your dog eyeing the chocolate rabbit in your Easter basket, remember they have a sweet tooth like you and I do and may not be able to resist eating the entire rabbit in one sitting. Put chocolate and any other sweet treats out of range of your dog to protect them from a trip to the animal ER. The chocolate eggs and jellybeans may not be attractive to your cat, but the pot of Easter lilies on the window is. Keep all lilies away from cats as they can cause serious kidney problems.

For more information about taste in various other animals click here.

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