Do not offer sweets to a cat, they are not good for him. But that’s not enough because cats don’t really feel sweet. Didn’t you know?
Candies and sweets are not of interest to cats. Our feline friends have eyes only for one thing: meat (well, also for pampering and naps, but these are non-food activities). And let’s not just talk about how much his hunting instinct leads him to catch a prey that is a mouse or a bird, the reason for this lack of interest is that cats do not have the ability to feel sweetness, unlike all the other mammals. So let’s see how the taste of cats works, and why they will never be able to enjoy the taste of sweets.
The taste buds
In the language of most mammals there are flavor receptors: proteins on the cell surface that bind to a nearby substance, activating the cell’s internal receptors that trigger a signal to the brain. Humans have five types (maybe six) of taste buds: sour, bitter, salty, umami (or fleshiness) and sweet (and perhaps even fat). The sweet receptor is actually composed of two coupled proteins, generated by two different genes, known as Tas1r2 is Tas1r3.
When functioning properly, the two genes form the paired protein, and when something sweet enters our mouth, this news is quickly sent to the brain, mainly because sweetness is a sign of rich carbohydrates – an important source of nourishment for herbivores and omnivores like humans. But cats are a noble carnivore and, unlike some less picky carnivores (such as bears who are omnivorous) and herbivores, cats only eat meat.
A choice of diet
Whether it is the result of a choice linked to their diet, or rather a cause, all felines – lions, tigers, and house cats – have a lack of the amino acid pair 247, which is the basis of the gene Tas1r2 in the DNA. The result is that it therefore does not create the appropriate protein, preventing cats from feeling sweet.
But actually not being able to feel the sweet taste is not bad, in fact cats do not have to eat sweets – like their proverbial animal colleagues, dogs – because they are harmful to their health. In fact, according to some scientists, the teeth of the cats are already delicate enough without candy to make things worse.
Scholars of sweets
Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, including biochemist Joe Brand and his colleague Xia Li, have discovered this peculiarity in the gene Tas1r2 (or pseudogene, given its inability to produce sweet taste proteins) after decades of studies, highlighting that cats are indifferent to sweet foods.
Of course, as always there are exceptions: cats eat ice cream, cotton candy, marshmallows, albeit rarely. According to Dr. Brand, this may be due to increased use of the receptor Tas1r3, to feel the flavor of high sugar concentrations, even if it is not yet clear.
Even if cats don’t feel sweet, they can feel things that we humans can’t taste, for example adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the compound that supplies energy to every living cell. This element gives the signal that we are dealing with meat, even if it is present in small quantities.
Other animals have different types of receptors, for example hens – which lack the sense of taste as cats do – have the ability to feel amino acids in water at nanomolecular concentrations.
According to what scientists currently know, cats are the only mammals that don’t taste sweet. Other carnivorous mammals, such as hyenas or weasels, which are close relatives of cats, manage to feel, love and digest sugars. Unfortunately, most industrially produced food for animals contains corn or wheat, which can give cats diabetes.
Industrial cat food has on average around 20% carbohydrates. But cats are not used to carbohydrates and cannot process them, so much so that the fact that they cannot feel its taste can be a problem for their health. Of course, maybe the cat won’t try to steal our dessert, but we still have to keep an eye on their line.