A dog’s sense of smell is extraordinary, but how about a dog’s sense of taste? How developed is it given the unappetizing things a dog will eat? Read on and find out.

Stories detailing the amazing capabilities of a dog’s sense of smell continually appear in the news. Detection of various cancers? Check. Detection of bombs and explosives? Check. Detection of toxic mold and bed bugs? Check. Detection of wildlife ‘scat’ to aid wildlife conservation? Check. Detection of a can of cat food being opened while napping? Check!

But how about a dog’s sense of taste? Given the unusual and downright unappetizing things you’ve probably seen your dog eat (Kitty Roca and grass sandwiches, anyone?), you probably already know a dog’s sense of taste is not well developed. And it comes as no surprise. After all, a dog’s sense of smell is extraordinary, and a dog’s sense of hearing is excellent, so it would seem unusual that all of the senses of one particular species would be so highly developed.

Read on for interesting facts about your best friend’s sense of taste

  • Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds in their mouths, while humans have about 9,000 and our feline friends, only around 470.
  • Although a dog’s sense of taste is the least developed of their senses, dogs are capable of detecting bitter, sweet, salty, and sour tastes. Humans and cats detect the same four, although it was previously believed cats could not taste sweets. In humans, a fifth taste called umami or ‘savory’ was recently recognized in the West as a basic taste, and a 1991 research study determined that dogs showed taste responses to “umami substances.”
  • Most of a dog’s taste buds are centered around the tip of the tongue.
  • Studies show a dog will avoid eating a particular food that has caused sickness in the past for a certain amount of time; it’s an instinctive protective mechanism.
  • Along with touch, taste is the only sense developed in dogs at birth although it takes weeks for them to fully develop.
  • Many sources point to the fact dogs taste salt, sweet, bitter and sour. Studies show dogs also have a sweet tooth (while cats cannot taste sweets) and according to Dr. Ann Hohenhaus of the Animal Medical Center in New York, who wrote about dog’s sense of taste in  The New Yorks Times Science Q & A,  “dogs generally prefer meat or meat-flavored foods” since the taste buds are programmed to distinguish amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
  • A dog’s sense of taste and smell are considered to be closely linked, with dogs likely gathering more information about the food they eat from its smell versus taste. Dr. Ann Hohenhaus explains dogs have 60 times as many smell receptors as humans do and they have 40 times as much brainpower dedicated to smell, allowing them to differentiate 30,000 to 100,000 aromas. For this reason, she states, in dogs, “smell is likely the driving force behind food preferences and at least part of the reason dogs wolf down their food without savoring a bite.”

The Scoop:

Read more about your dog’s senses in Woof Report’s past tips.

Thank you to Duo De Hale on flickr for the photo of Bayou.

Originally published February 2011; reviewed and updated February 2017.