We know dogs have great night vision and an incredible sense of smell. But what about taste? Do dogs have taste buds? How does their sense of taste work with their other senses?
How A Dog's Tongue Works
Yes, dogs have taste buds, mainly at the tip of their tongue. They don’t have very many, though: dogs have about 1700 taste buds, compared to 9000 in humans. That’s more than 5 times as many for us as for our dogs. They taste many of the same flavors we do – sweet, salty, sour, and bitter – but not as strongly as humans do. Still, taste is one of the earliest senses they develop: while dogs are born deaf and blind, they are born with the ability to taste. It’s not fully developed at birth, but it’s there.
Why They Need To Taste
Taste is often a predictor of whether something is safe to eat or not. Think about your own kitchen. You open a jug of milk, pour a glass, and as soon as the milk hits your tongue you know if it’s still good or gone bad. Your sense of taste is your body’s way of protecting you from eating something harmful. With animals, the sense of taste provides the same protection. So even if newborn puppies cannot see or hear, they know if something is safe to eat or not. It's a matter of survival.
As adults, their sense of smell likely has more to do with what they know of food than taste does. Their sense of smell comes in later but far surpasses their ability to taste. It doesn’t matter where in the house he is, your dog knows when you’ve opened a can of food, right? He can smell it a mile away. That’s why so many dog foods and treats have such a strong scent. It’s to attract dogs because their sense of smell is so strong. It tastes good too, but smell is stronger for them.
Why Dogs Love Bacon And Fruit (And Nasty Stuff At The Dog Park)
That’s not to say taste doesn’t matter. Dogs have preferences in flavors, preferring sweet over sour (try giving your dog a piece of melon and you’ll see). Recent research discovered a new flavor called "umami" (savory) to go along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Humans can definitely taste it, and research shows dogs may taste it too, which explains why they go nuts for meat and gravy.
Bitter, on the other hand, is generally detested by dogs. That’s why there are products like Bitter Apple Spray to deter dogs from chewing or licking. They hate the flavor and to avoid it, they’ll stop chewing or licking whatever has the bitter apple taste. It’s highly effective because it takes advantage of their distaste for bitter.
Do dogs have taste buds? Yes they do, and they can taste the same flavors humans do. But their sense of taste isn’t very strong and they still rely on their sense of smell to learn about the world around them.
Now you know how a dog's taste works. Next, read What Colors Do Dogs See.
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Photo credit: AJ Cann