The internet provides discombobulated information on this topic! For example, the website Excited Cats tells me that cats like salt. They like the taste of it they say. And of course, a modicum of salt (sodium chloride) is necessary for body functions.
I’m not sure that they are right that cats like salt because a study on the taste preferences and diet palatability in cats, tells me that “studies also demonstrated that kittens lacked the “salt appetite” that most omnivores animals have. Even sodium-depleted cats reported to show no preference for sodium solution or salted water over plain water.”
Domestic cats unattracted to salt?
The scientists concluded that cats don’t normally show attraction to salty food which means that it is not used as a flavour enhancer for dry cat food for instance. The consequence is that cats may suffer from sodium deficiency because they can’t select foods based on their sodium or salt content.
This scientific answer appears to be more accurate than the one from Excited Cats. Anecdotally, I think that my cat likes the taste of salt which is the opposite to what the scientists say. His favourite food treat is king prawns which are flavoured with salt. The indication is he likes both the taste of the prawns and the enhanced flavour that saltiness provides. Although I’m guessing.
Separately, there is one additive to dry cat food which is vital and which is described as “cat crack” on the Popular Science website. It’s a common additive which is also used in human food. It prevents potato products from going dark after they’ve been cooked. For human food it is not used to enhance flavour but apparently cats go nuts for it. It might intensify the flavour of amino acids apparently. This important additive is sodium pyrophosphate and in another study, it was reported that coating cat food with 0.5% of sodium pyrophosphate resulted in a significant increase in food consumption.
Smells and tastes too good?
Also separately, the scientists employed by pet food manufacturing companies have become so adept at enhancing the flavour of dry cat food that they may have gone too far. The food can become addictive. If the cat’s caretaker is prone to giving them too much cat food or they are allowed free feeding it may lead to feline obesity. We know that there is an epidemic of pet obesity with one survey of veterinary professionals at a vet show in London suggesting that about 44% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese.
There may be an argument to make dry cat food less palatable to curb pet obesity. Although the biggest problem in pet obesity is overfeeding. But there are two aspects of the problem as mentioned.
Two-stage process when feeding
There is a two-stage process for domestic cats when feeding: does it smell good followed by does it taste good? The first “filter” is very important. That’s why pet food manufacturers make dry cat food smell very attractive. For a food that is unnatural to a domestic cat, dry cat food can be more attractive than wet because of these odour and palatability enhancers.
Smell and taste
Cats have a much better sense of smell than humans but their ability to taste is less good than that of humans. And apparently cats like strong smells. It is said that pet food manufacturers have to compromise between the strong smells that cats like and the same smells that humans dislike. Cat food has to appeal to humans as much as to cats because they buy the products.
Apparently, they add flavourings such as putrescine and cadaverine which are both colourless chemicals. They produce a slightly rotten smell which apparently cats love. This may tie in with the fact that when domestic cats eat food from a bowl, they are scavenging their food. This is unnatural.
Domestic cat would naturally hunt and kill their food. Perhaps there is a need for the pet food manufacturers to mimic what a scavenged animal carcass should smell like. Although cats are not natural scavengers, they appear to have adapted to this aspect of living in a human environment. Cats do a lot of adapting. It is the human’s duty to help them in that task by ‘catifying’ the human environment.
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