NutriSource Blogs

Curious about canines: Does flavor matter to dogs?

April 01, 2021

Sometimes, it seems our beloved dogs are willing to eat just about anything. Including, ahem, non-food items. But then they’ll turn down a perfectly good bowl of their usual kibble for no apparent reason. This suggests canines might experience flavors differently than humans do. But how? What does dog food taste like to dogs? What do they like most about their food? Does flavor matter to dogs?

In the following, we’ll reveal the world of flavor from a canine perspective.

How many taste buds do dogs have?

For starters, a dog’s ability to detect flavors on the tongue isn’t on par with a human’s. The average dog has 1,700 taste buds whereas humans have 9,000. In terms of tasting power, a dog’s is around one-fifth of ours. That raises many questions around mealtime, because most dogs get pretty excited when they hear the rustling of the kibble bag. But if they don’t experience flavors as we do, what do they like about eating?

Which flavors do dogs taste?

The fact that dogs have fewer taste buds doesn’t mean food tastes bland to them. In fact, dogs have the same receptors as humans. Which means they perceive:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Umami

Umami means “the essence of deliciousness” in Japanese and describes flavors that are savory, meaty or brothy. Their ability to taste umami explains why dogs crave a meaty meal and provides an idea of what they’re looking for in a food.

Can dogs taste water?

Dogs do have specific taste buds for water. Though humans can certainly detect flavors in water, humans do not possess these same taste buds.

It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around what this tasting experience is like. But at the tip of your dog’s tongue is a set of taste buds that are especially perceptive to water. When dogs eat dehydrating foods that are sweet or salty, these taste buds become more sensitive, sending a message to your dog it’s time to head to his bowl and lap up some water. This drive helps your dog maintain a healthy level of hydration.

Why do dogs sniff their food?

It’s not because he’s finicky. Sniffing gives him a better taste of what’s in the bowl.

As we know, a dog’s taste buds are weaker receptors for flavor than ours. But the canine sense of smell more than makes up for that at mealtime.

  • A dog’s sense of smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s.
  • Dogs possess 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses versus the 6 million in a human’s.
  • The region of the brain dedicated to processing and analyzing scent is 40 times greater in dogs compared to humans.

This powerful little tool means the nose plays a prominent role at mealtime. Dogs rely on scent to gather information about their environment and that includes the kibble you poured into his bowl. Their decision to eat something comes down to whether the scent is tempting to him or whether there’s something “off” that makes him turn up his nose.

Be patient with your dog next time you sit down to your delicious meal of steaks from the grill. The tempting aroma of charred meat is thousands of times more intense for him than it is for you. That’s enough to distract him from focusing on minding his manners.

[For more insights and tips read Canine behavior explained: Why dogs beg and how to end it]

Do dogs get bored with their food?

One thing that makes us smile about our pets is their excitement at mealtime. Even if they’re enjoying the same kibble without complaint day after day, it’s healthy to introduce new animal proteins to his diet, so his body gets the unique nutrition profile that enhances your dog’s wellness. Not only will you want to rotate his animal proteins, be on the lookout for other whole food ingredients on the label, such as wholesome grains and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies.

Their taste buds don’t get in the way of enjoying that same kibble. But if your dog is backing away from the bowl, it may be the scent is not as enticing as it was the first time you presented the bag of kibble, and he craves something new.

[Check out the episode How Good is a Dog or Cat’s Sense of Taste in the Raising Your Paws podcast]

Is your dog losing interest in his daily meal?

Here are a few things to consider.

You have a geriatric dog. Just as with humans, the aging process in canines can leave their senses not as sharp and strong as they once were. The scent of their usual kibble just isn’t as powerful as before, so it’s more difficult to engage their interest. You can do this by:

  • Warming the kibble. Warmth brings the fats to the surface, releasing savory meaty scents into the air. Try adding a few spoonfuls of hot water to the kibble and give it a good stir before serving. Or you can try microwaving it for 5 seconds.
  • Experiment with wet food. Offering more wet food in your pet’s bowl can do the trick. Wet foods have the chunks of meat in gravy that dogs crave, and they also release more aroma than dry kibble. Either try a full meal replacement, or simply top off their food with a few spoonfuls.

Your dog craves new nutrients. Each animal protein source offers its unique mix of amino acids, vitamins and minerals for your pet’s body. Sometimes, changing from the usual chicken to a different meaty mix, such as duck, turkey, salmon, lamb or bison, will provide enticing new aromas that pique their interest and give their body what it needs. (As long as you stick to a premium pet food that focuses on gut health like NutriSource, tummy troubles and messes in the backyard shouldn’t be a problem when making the switch.)

Your dog is getting too many treats. Treating our pets is fun, and it’s easy to overdo it. If your dog is losing interest in his meals, it’s worth doing a quick audit of the number of handouts he’s getting from well-intended family members during the day so he doesn’t spoil his supper with empty calories.

You’re overfilling the bowl. At mealtimes, always check the serving size on the bag to make sure your dog is getting the right amount for his age and size. Some brands are bulked up with fillers that add mass to a serving. Premium brands like NutriSource provide nutrient-dense servings with more than 400 calories per cup. So if you’ve made any changes, make sure your previous “training” isn’t causing you to overfill your dog’s bowl.

[Read Confused what to feed your pet? Kibble and cans explained]

Tempt your dog’s palate by upping the animal protein

Even though dogs have fewer taste buds, dogs take in a lot of information about their food using their powerful sense of smell. That means the aroma of their food plays a much bigger role at mealtimes than flavor.

Filling your dog’s bowl with a meal where the meaty goodness of animal protein plays a starring role is sure to tempt his palate. With the NutriSource Element Series, meat appears in the first five ingredients, offering a high-quality, bioavailable meal that your dog will love from the first sniff to the last bite. In each serving, 83-90% of the protein comes from meat, which is sure to excite your dog about meal time!

Look for NutriSource Element Series at your local, independent pet food retailer.