How Do Cats Choose Their Food? | Glen Iris Vet

It's amazing how quickly cats will take to certain foods, while they will remain thoroughly uninterested by other foods even though to us they seem virtually identical.

To us, cats seem to be some of the pickiest pets when it comes to their food. So knowing how your cat chooses its food is the best way to ensure that you can find exactly what your cat will eat and to fulfil its nutritional requirements based on age, lifestyle and breed.

How Cats Choose Their Food

Cats don't have the same number of taste buds as humans, so they use their other senses when selecting their food. Cats use three senses to decide whether or not they will eat something:

1. Smell

A cat's sense of smell is their primary way of interacting with food. They will usually sniff the food before eating it, and food that smells unappealing will be rejected. Cats have 60-70 million olfactory receptors whereas humans have 5 million. This is why smell is so important to cats when selecting food.

2. Mouth Feel

The way food is grasped and feels in your cat’s mouth has a major impact on whether or not they will pick it up and eat it. Each cat will have different preferences - some will prefer soft food in jellies or gravy that is easy to chew and swallow, while others will prefer dry, harder to chew food.

3. How It Makes Them Feel After They Eat It

The ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrate can impact how your cat’s body feels after it breaks down the food. This ratio, often referred to as the Macronutrient Profile (MNP), determines the optimal ratio of energy derived from the three macronutrients and helps provide a positive post-digestion sensation.

If you’re finding it difficult to find a food your cat prefers, you can try a one-off food trial. For example, simply put out a small amount jelly and gravy textured food and see which food your cat selects. This will help you buy the one your cat prefers.

With dry foods, look out for products that address the specific needs of fussy cats: Smell, texture and how your cat’s body feels after eating. You can do the same one-off trial with the dry food, which again will help you find out whether your cat is mainly driven by smell, texture or the digestive sensation.

Common Feeding Misconceptions

  • Variety Is Important. Myth: We humans may love variety, but cats don't have the same need. That's because, while we have 9,000 taste buds, cats have only 500. Also, changes in your cat’s diet can cause digestive upsets, which is why we recommend sticking to a single formula.
  • Cat’s Select Their Food on Taste. Myth: You’re not alone if you think your cat favours flavour. A recent survey with cat owners showed us that 99% of Australian owners feel their cats favour flavour. In actual fact cats primarily select their food based on smell, texture and the digestive sensation. Flavour plays quite a small role.
  • High Protein Diets Are Bad. Myth: High quality proteins like fish, beef, and chicken are excellent for cats. It is well known that cats need a high protein diet to gain much needed nutrients like the essential amino acid, taurine. High quality protein – i.e. highly digestible protein - is key to a healthy diet for cats.


For more information, please contact us at Glen Iris Veterinary Hospital & Cattery.

We are conveniently in the City of Stonnington and Glen Eira. The pawfect location for pet parents living in Glen Iris, Malvern, Toorak, Kooyong, Armadale and surrounding areas!


- Source from our supplier, Royal Canin. Ask our friendly staff for product information.

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