Do Dogs Have Taste Buds?

by Perfect Puppy Care on May 22, 2013

Taste Buds

It seems that dogs will eat just about anything you put in front of them, from meat to metal, which begs the question, do dogs have taste buds?

You might think that it’s possible your dog doesn’t have taste buds, since he’s willing to consume things we might find disgusting, such as cat poop and toilet water, but the truth is, dogs do have taste buds. However, while they totally outperform humans when it comes to the sense of smell, their sense of taste pales in comparison.

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Taste is an old sense, evolutionary speaking. Taste was used in that famed primordial soup. Different tastes meant different things. Some tastes signaled food; other tastes signaled warning, and yet other tastes were signs of harm.
As animal evolved, so did this primitive taste system. Now, as a regular rule of thumb, things that taste “disgusting” are signals for something harmful (think bleach) whereas things that taste “good” are useful to the body.

Taste buds are the receptors that allow dogs (and us) to taste. These taste buds are small bumps found on the surface of the tongue (papillae), as well as on the soft part of the roof of the mouth (palate) and back part of the mouth (epiglottis and pharynx).

They can taste … but how good?
An animal’s ability to taste is directly related to the number of taste buds they possess. The fewer the buds, the less they can taste. The same can be said for the sense of smell. A dog has a greater sense of smell than humans because they possess more olfactory receptors.

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If you ever cook up something tasty, you’ll likely pique the interest of your dog. In fact, it might appear that his mouth is watering, and maybe it is, but he’s longing for that food with far fewer taste buds than you. Humans have about 10,000 taste buds, whereas dogs have roughly 1,700 (cats have even fewer taste buds, with about 470).

Dogs rely much more on their incredible sense of smell in determining the quality of food.

A dog’s taste buds are similar to humans, in that there are four basic taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. However, the main distinction between our taste buds and a dog’s involves the sensation of salt. We have an extremely strong taste response to salt. The reason for this is that our bodies need salt to balance our diet, but there’s not much salt found in grains and vegetables, which were major components of our diet thousands of years ago.

Dogs in the wild, on the other hand, mostly consume meat (about 80% of their diet is meat), which contains a lot of salt, thus their salt receptors didn’t need to evolve. But since they are primarily carnivorous, dogs have specific taste receptors tuned for meats and fats. Their bodies tell them that this type of food is needed in their diet, which is why you might see your dog take a liking to your steak.

A dog’s taste buds could save your furniture
One of the products you might buy when you get your new dog is some sort of chew deterrent like bitter apple. The purpose of these sprays and gels is to keep your dog from chewing things like tables, cable wires, papers and more. Dogs have a dislike toward bitter tastes, thus your dog’s taste buds could save your furniture.

However, the emphasis is on could, and this has to do with how taste buds are spread out on the tongue. Sweet is best tasted at the front and side portion of the tongue. Sour and salty are further back on the sides of the tongue, and the rear portion of the tongue is where bitter is tasted. If your dog quickly licks or gulps something bitter, there’s a good chance that he won’t even taste it. Only prolonged chewing will allow that bitter taste to work its way toward the necessary taste buds, so before you give up on that bitter spray, give it some time.

So you think water has no taste?
While you might think that water has no taste (unless something’s really wrong with it), dogs actually have taste buds specified for water. These taste buds are found at the tip of a dog’s tongue, which just happens to be where a dog laps water.

The reason for these taste buds, it’s believed, is to help dogs keep their internal fluids in balance, particularly since it seems that these taste buds are heightened after a dog eats salty or sugary foods.

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