By Tiki Cat Staff
“How can I get my finicky cat to eat?” Pet-care professionals routinely hear this question and it usually comes after a client has tried countless different foods and flavors, only to have their cat turn up her whiskers, or at best, nibble at the new offering, then refuse to eat it outright the next time.
This has given rise to the popular belief that felines need endless variety in their diet. But if the flavor is the only variable a cat owner is looking at, chances are she’s meowing up the wrong tree. Feline dietary experts agree that the way a food tastes, by itself, is significantly less important to cats than it is to people and dogs. This isn’t surprising, considering that cats have a mere 500 taste buds when compared to a human’s 9,000. Even dogs, with 1,700 taste buds, have more than triple that amount.
Since taste isn’t the only driving factor, what other criteria do cats use in determining whether a particular food appeals to them? The way a food smells, its mouth-feel or texture and—perhaps most surprisingly—its nutritional content have all been shown to be important contributors to feline food choices. Pet professionals should advise clients to look at all of these factors, in addition to flavor, to get to the root of their cat’s finickiness.
Smell and Mouth-Feel
That cats rely heavily on their sense of smell in picking food makes perfect sense. When it comes to scenting skills, felines and humans occupy the exact reverse positions than they do with tasting ability. With 65 million olfactory receptors, cats have a super sniffing capacity that far exceeds our own, given our paltry 15 million receptors. Different food brands may offer a “chicken” variety, but various versions of the same flavor may present totally different aromas because of cats’ highly honed sense of smell. Therefore, owners should not assume that just because their cat has rejected one manufacturer’s chicken, he doesn’t like any chicken.
This reliance on the sense of smell might also explain why temperature sometimes seems to play a role in cats’ mealtime fussiness, since food just out of the refrigerator may have a very different scent than it does when served at room temperature. Another factor that influences felines’ meal choices is mouth-feel, which is how the food’s texture feels in their mouth and the ease with which they can pick it up, chew and swallow it.
Here again, different cats have different preferences, not only in crunchy dry food versus softer wet food. But even within the wet food category, a cat might have a clear favorite, whether it’s shredded meat or firmer morsels in gravy. Some similar textures can have different mouth-feels, affecting the food’s palatability; for example, some cats prefer a soft paté to a smoother mousse or vice versa.
Flavor and Texture Variety
At Tiki Cat®, we are committed to offering wet food in an extensive assortment of textures—mousse, paté, shreds, flakes, chunks and whole foods—in addition to our Born Carnivore™ high-protein, low-carb dry kibble. That’s why we recently introduced a paté format to our After Dark™ line, which is available in several varieties. All of which are sourced in New Zealand and loaded with nutrient-rich organ meat in a smooth texture. The line is also available in a whole-cut format that features shredded chicken and other meats such as lamb and beef, blended with organ meat, in broth.
Another of our popular wet food textures is our Velvet™ line. These super silky mousses are made with tender chicken or fish and is available in adult, kitten and senior formulas. Our wide variety of textures and recipes is reflected in our other Tiki Cat offerings, including: Aloha Friends™, flaked chicken or fish with small chunks of pumpkin in broth; Grill, real fish recipes garnished with whole shellfish in a consommé; Raw, complete, balanced meals with raw, uncooked ground poultry or red meat and bone broth; and Luau™, shredded chicken mixed with flaked fish, like wild salmon or ahi tuna.
Cats Require Carnivorous Diet
With all of its recipes, our overriding mission is to replicate the high-protein meat-based diet that cats would eat in nature. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on animal protein for all of their nutrients, including essentials like taurine and arachidonic acid and cannot efficiently digest and process plants. They lack the enzyme necessary to convert carotene from plants to vitamin A, so they must obtain it from animal meat. Having evolved in a desert climate, cats also have a low thirst drive and consume some of their required moisture through the food they eat.
Tiki Cat’s meat-based meals are inspired by cats’ natural prey diets, extremely high in animal protein with natural ingredients, no grains and low or no carbohydrates. This is true even of our dry kibble, which has an average 44 percent protein content. Our wet foods are high in moisture to give cats the supplemental water they need.
Felines Might “Sense” Foods’ Nutritional Content
This brings up the third—and most surprising—criterion that influences cats’ dietary choices: nutritional content. A study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal found that cats appear to have the ability to identify foods that meet their nutritional requirements. In this study, the selected foods based on their protein content relative to fat content, even over ones that had a more desirable taste.
First, the study cats were given foods with the same protein and fat content in three different flavors (rabbit, fish and orange) to see which they preferred. Based on taste alone, the clear favorite was fish, followed by rabbit and then orange. Next, the food’s protein and fat contents were modified so that each flavor was offered in three different ratios: very low protein-to-fat (10:90); slightly lower protein than fat (40:60); and higher protein than fat (70:30). At first, the cats continued to choose food based on flavor; however, over time they came to overwhelmingly prefer the food with the higher protein content, regardless of its flavor, leading researchers to conclude, “Our results suggest that macronutrient balancing rather than hedonistic rewards…is a primary driver of longer-term food selection and intake in domestic cats.”