Lots of kitties live pampered lives — hence the classic quip that dogs have owners, but cats have staff.

Despite so often living the proverbial sweet life, felines actually lack the ability to taste sweetness.

Why Can’t Cats Taste Sweets?

While people and most fellow mammals enjoy the taste of something sugary, “cats prefer the protein and fat found in meat,” says veterinary nutritionist Dr. Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, DACVN, of the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis.

Not only do cats not prefer sweets, but they also can’t taste them.

“Cats lack the receptor necessary to taste sweet,” explains Dr. Lisa P. Weeth, DVM, DACVN, a clinical nutritionist based in New Jersey. Thanks to certain genetic defects, she adds, feline sweet receptors are permanently on the fritz, leaving cats indifferent to sugars.

So Why Do Some Kitties Like Sweet Foods?

Both Dr. Larsen and Dr. Weeth point out that foods we think of as sweet often contain other flavors that cats can detect, like the taste of milk in ice cream.

“There are many things — texture, moisture content, temperature — we perceive about food that leads us to like and dislike specific things,” Dr. Larsen says, adding that while we focus on the sweetness of a particular treat, kitties appreciate other aspects of the same snack.

“Cats also have preferences for food based on certain mouth feels," Dr. Weeth adds. "This explains why some cats love smooth-style canned foods while others love chunk foods and some shun all canned cat foods, preferring dry food exclusively.”

Can I Give My Cat Any Sweet Treats?

Dr. Larsen recommends that treats make up no more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories to avoid stomach upset.

“I have feline patients who love fresh corn, and others who like yogurt or lettuce ribs,” Dr. Weeth says. “If a cat eats too many of these extras, it can contribute to weight gain and obesity.”

And you should always consult with your vet before feeding your kitty any human foods because, as Dr. Weeth points out, foods containing onion or garlic can cause anemia in cats. Dr. Larsen warns against feeding grapes, raisins and chicken jerky to kitties, since “they can cause kidney disease in dogs, due to an unknown factor, and I would avoid feeding these to cats as well.”

Should your cat sneak off with a random morsel you’re not sure about, you can check the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.

If your kitty’s craving checks out as safe with your vet, and is consumed in moderation, she deserves an indulgence, too. “As anyone with cats will tell you," Dr. Weeth says, "there is no one perfect food or treat to make everyone happy.”

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