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The next two installments of Nutrition Nuggets will cover food preferences in dogs and cats. Then, in the third week, we will discuss reasons why your dog might not be eating and what you can do to try to encourage him. So stay tuned!

Have you ever heard that cats are finicky eaters? Cats do seem to be very discriminating creatures, but I don’t think the same is often said about dogs. In my experience, most dogs will eat just about anything … things that are edible and things that aren’t, like tennis balls, socks, hair ties, cow manure…

Do Dogs Have Taste Buds?

They do! Dogs have about one-sixth the number of taste buds that humans do. So what makes something tasty to a dog? Dogs can taste things that are bitter, salty, sweet, and sour, but it turns out that smell matters more to dogs than the way food tastes. If something smells good to a dog, it will likely go down the hatch. After a couple bites, the texture or taste might play a role, too.

What Do Dogs Like to Eat?

Most dogs like a variety of flavors and readily accept new foods, but some dogs do seem to have preferences. What a puppy is exposed to early on in life may play a role in what he will like later. If he was offered a variety of foods (including dry and canned) early on, he may be more likely to try different foods as an adult. Canned food gives off a stronger aroma and is therefore sometimes more enticing to the picky eater.

Another factor is the freshness of the food. As foods age, they lose their aroma and flavor. The fats in the product also start to oxidize into peroxides. This degradation is known as rancidity and results in undesirable odors and flavors. Dry food remains palatable for about one month after the bag is opened. Keeping the kibble closed tightly in the original bag will help to keep it fresh. If you prefer to transfer the food to another container, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. Even though it may be more economical to buy in bulk, the food’s palatability may suffer.

Unopened canned food has a shelf life of approximately two years before the vitamins start to break down. After opening, the can should be covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than 3-5 days. When the food comes out of the refrigerator, it will not have as strong a smell, so you may need to add warm water or warm it slightly in the microwave to get the aroma. Take care not to serve it too hot or your dog might burn his mouth.

Environmental temperatures can affect appetite too. If it is hot outside and your dog is panting, he cannot sniff (smell) at the same time and may not want to eat. If your dog is an outside dog, cold temperatures can reduce the aroma of his food or it may have a different mouth feel and be less appealing. Again, warming might do the trick.

Like most mammals, dogs have a sweet tooth (not so for cats — stay tuned for next week’s article). Dogs tend not to like salty foods, however. Salt (i.e., NaCl) is essential in the diet, but does not increase a food’s palatability for dogs.

These preferences may also play a role in food selection, but they still don’t explain why dogs like to eat socks!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock

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Ingestion of Feces and Foreign Objects in Dogs


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