This is a snippet of information about feeding cats, particularly food selection in domestic cats, referred to in the book The Welfare of Cats Edited by Irene Rochlitz. I have not seen this topic mentioned before.
With the exception of salt, there is no evidence that cats can recognise missing nutrients by taste, nor are they capable of immediately recognising a nutritionally deficient or imbalanced diet. The domestic cat does not realise his diet is poor.
Feeding a nutritionally inadequate diet does, however, result in declining food intake or complete refusal to eat that diet. This is believed to represent a learned aversion, where the sensory characteristics of the food, notably its taste, are associated with the malaise that follows its consumption (Bradshaw & Thorne 1992).
This process can conceivably be subject to errors of interpretation, for example where a cat erroneously associates the symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection with the taste of the previous meal, causing him to avoid the flavours in that meal. This leads to another topic, namely, feeding the sick cat.
Consideration needs to be given as to the appropriate time to introduce a cat to a new diet. Feeding a new food when a cat is unwell, particularly if he is nauseous, or feeding a new food that causes diarrhoea or vomiting, can result in “learned taste aversion” resulting in poor long-term acceptance of an appropriate diet.
The sort of foods that are more likely to induce aversion are those that are strongly odorous or have high protein content. Aversion can last up to 40 days and can even be permanent. For most cats, the key is to get them eating and feeling better first and then introduce a new diet.