Finicky eater or savvy survivor?

I’m so intrigued by the animal world, so I’m always curious about stereotypes like cats are finicky eaters. I like getting to the bottom of why things are the way they are in nature.

Nature is so truly amazing. Animals have adapted in unusual ways that allow them to survive in the wild. If we can understand these adaptations, we can understand our pets better.

In light of the fact that we know animals in the wild develop adaptations to help them thrive in their environment, we have to assume that there’s more to the “finicky” eater thing than our furry felines just being picky.

In truth, there’s a lot more to it.

A cat won’t eat if they can’t smell

First and foremost, a cat’s sense of smell plays a critical role in their appetite.  According to, cats have only 470 taste buds on their tongues compared to humans who have about 9000. As a result, cats have to rely on their sense of smell more than their sense of taste to stimulate hunger.

Hmmm…has your cat ever stopped eating when they’ve had a respiratory infection or some type of nasal blockage? They weren’t just being finicky. They really need their sense of smell to eat.

Lucky for our cats, they have an incredible sense of smell. It’s not quite that of a dog, but it is better than the human. Dogs have 300 million smell receptors in their noses; cats have 80 million, and humans only 5 million.

Like in humans, smell will attract a cat to its food. Have you ever walked passed the smell of garlic wafting from an Italian restaurant and suddenly you’re hungry? It’s no different for a cat. In the wild, cats rely on their sense of smell to find prey and also a mate.

The Jacobson organ and Flehmen response

Cats have a little help in the smell department because they have something other than their nose to help them do it. They are one of the many animals that have a special organ on the roof of their mouth called the Jacobson’s organ. This organ gives them another sense. It isn’t smell and it isn’t taste. It’s something that humans don’t have.

It acts like an auxiliary organ to the nose that helps a cat sense smells. This vomeronasal organ is located in the roof of the mouth, close to the vomer and nasal bones. It’s made up of 2 fluid filled sacs that connect to the nasal cavity through very fine ducts.

If you’ve ever noticed your cat pulling back its upper lip, holding its mouth open with its head up, almost seeming to have stopped breathing, they are using their Jacobson organ. This funny thing cats do, and other animals too, is called the Flehmen response. It is designed to draw scent molecules over the highly sensitive Jacobson organ.

Cats will use the Flehmen response to help them find a mate. It enables them to smell sexual odors–pheromones. But they use it to smell food too.

Smart not finicky

Your cat’s terrific sense of smell makes them a little fussy about what they eat because they can easily detect if something is spoiled, if their dish isn’t clean, or if anything is different about their food.

So keep these things in mind if suddenly your cat isn’t eating their regular food. They’re not really being finicky. They’re being smart.

Okay…now we know that smell is very important to your cat’s desire to eat. So if they’re acting finicky about their meal, maybe it has something to do with what they are smelling in their food…or not smelling.

No cold food for kitty

Have you ever tried giving your cat food from the fridge and wondered why they wouldn’t eat it? Cold food doesn’t give off as strong an aroma as warm or room temperature food.

Because cats rely on their sense of smell to feel hungry, it’s a good idea not to refrigerate their food. Warm the food a little to release the scent.

Also, cats are not scavengers. In the wild, they don’t eat the leftover animal remains that have been lying around for days. They want to be sure that their prey is fresh.

The temperature of their prey tells the cat if it’s safe to eat. The flesh of a freshly killed animal is still warm. Cold flesh, not fresh.

Cats can only taste what they need

Cats also have a unique sense of taste. It is the weakest of all their senses since they have so few taste buds. But that’s okay because they can sense what they need.

They are obligate carnivores. Cats must eat meat. It is biologically necessary. As a result, their taste buds strongly sense and prefer fats and proteins.

They can also taste bitter, sour, and salty. Bitter and sour is important because they serve as a warning that something is poisonous or harmful.

Even though cats can detect salt, they don’t seek out salty food since they get the salt they need from the meat in their diets.

You’ll be interested to know that cats are the only mammals that can’t taste sweet. They have no need to taste sweet since they don’t need to consume sugar, or carbohydrates that convert to sugar.

If you’re reading this and thinking “my cat loves ice cream,” it’s probably the fat they taste and love, not the sugar.

Cats also have consistency preferences. They prefer soft food to kibble. If they have to eat kibble, cats prefer large pieces to crumbs. A wild diet of animal flesh would be more like soft food than kibble. This isn’t finicky. It’s just natural.

Now that you’ve read this post, I hope you’re thinking maybe your cat isn’t really finicky. Maybe their highly refined senses just make them more cautious about changes in their diet.

And what you now know about your cat’s sense of smell and taste just confirms what you already knew about your fabulous feline…they’re smart!

Is your cat a “finicky” eater? Tell us what you’ve done to accommodate your cat’s discriminating taste in the comment section above.

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