When considering what a dog is willing to woof down, you can’t help but wonder if they actually taste what they eat. It doesn’t seem to matter to a dog whether it’s their favorite CANIDAE meal, a bug or an ice cube. My dogs will eat everything with gusto as if it had been prepared by a top chef. My cats hunt flies, spiders and other small creatures, and occasionally an overlooked dust bunny. The senses of dogs and cats are far superior to ours, but do they have taste buds, and can they really taste what they eat?
Taste buds play an ingenious role in human and animal survival and are designed to help keep us alive. Without the ability to distinguish between certain tastes it would be difficult to know which foods are safe to eat and which ones to avoid. Something that tastes bad usually means it could be harmful to swallow, and a good taste would be an indication it is safe to consume. All vertebrates have taste buds on their tongues, but how many a species has depends on which tastes they need to be able to detect to stay safe. Humans have about 10,000 taste buds, whereas dogs only have around 1,700 and cats have approximately 470. Because herbivores, like cows for example, dine on a large variety of plants, more taste buds are needed to help them tell if a plant is toxic or beneficial for them to eat.