What Dogs Taste

Just Gimme the Treat!

“Nom-nom-nom-nom-nom….” Image Copr. Barry Fryer

What dogs taste is a topic I’m covering in the future release of my updated PURINA ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DOG CARE. I’d LOVE to have your discussion/opinions for possible inclusion so fire away in the comments! Of course, we know some of the odd and nasty weird stuff dogs eat–I really do need to record an Ask Amy about why dogs drink out of the toilet–but do they actually taste such things?


The taste system of dogs is used as a model for people because they are so similar but it appears young dogs don’t care as much about taste in relation to food preferences, and rely more on smell. This past year I attended lectures at a couple of pet food companies that included information about pet smell preferences–some are quite surprising! What are some unusual scents that your dogs seem to enjoy? With Magic, dirty socks might be a flavor enhancer . . .

Not everything is known about the dog’s sense of taste.  We know that a facial nerve is “wired” to the taste buds on the front two-thirds of the tongue only, leaving the remainder somewhat of a mystery.  Most of the dog’s taste buds are circular structures located on the upper forward surface of the tongue, and in four to six large cup-shaped bumpy papillae at the rear of the tongue.


The majority of canine taste buds respond to sugar, which can get them in trouble when they indulge in eating toxic but sweet antifreeze or chocolate.  This is most likely a reflection of their omnivorous evolution.  Dogs needed to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables to survive, so they evolved a sweet tooth because sweetness is a mechanism in plants that signals optimum ripeness. And like people, dogs are able to detect a kind of “fruity-sweet” flavor that attracts us — and them — to the calorie-rich ripeness of fruits and vegetables.

The second greatest number of canine taste buds respond to acidic tastes, which correspond to sour and bitter in people.  However, dogs don’t appear to have a specific response to salt.  Odors coupled with taste tend to impact what the dog will eat.


Interestingly, the dog’s taste receptors don’t stop in the mouth, but extend down into the larynx. Dogs can taste and seem to prefer a “sweet” taste, from both carbohydrates and meaty sources and salty flavors. Sour perception and bitter tastes are more sensitive to aging changes. Many dogs have only a quarter of the active taste buds as when younger.

Chemical irritations and “mouth feel” influence how well the dog likes or dislikes a flavor, too. That explains some of the odd kibble shapes that commercial food companies create. Taste also is influenced by changes in saliva production so for aging dogs with dehydration problems, this may impact the dog’s sudden “snubbing the food” that he adored before. Even the odors or tastes produced by dental disease can make a dog refuse a favorite food.

What about your dogs? Are they garbage gluttons that snarf without sniffing first? Or do they need a whiff before ready to gulp?


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What Dogs Taste — 9 Comments

  1. I’ve got a purebred Border Terrier. He’ll eat anything. Surprised me — not. Not long ago bought a box of duck and cherry SoJos treats. A big — NO thank you from him. Tasted (?) and would not eat them.

    I recently cut a hard boiled egg into quarters lengthwise. Gave him a quarter. Into his mouth and out. That long slippery egg white had to be checked out before swallowed. Then I cut one of the quarters in half crosswise. No problem with that.

    I grew up with a beagle. What they will eat! Heard of two different beagle pups who ate owners’ “rocks”. That is . . . engagement rings. Ours ate the cheap stuff — shattered glass. He was OK. Vet recommended salt to bring it up which he did.

    • Hi Mary, Yes those beagles eat anything that doesn’t move faster than they do, LOL! Interesting about your Border guy. The egg white thing seems to go to the whole “mouth feel” preference, doesn’t it? How funny!

  2. I’ll never forget coming home one night to find that Sammy, our Beagle had eaten an entire Blueberry pie. Mark, the German Sheppard/Husky mix wasn’t interested. Sammy thought Blueberry pie was wonderful.

    Out of the two we have now, Kleo is a poop eater. Rose isn’t, she’s a chocoholic. The two of them drive me nuts.

    It all comes down to planning. Like you’ve said, keeping the garbage cans on the counter is a decorating decision. So is keeping the bathroom door shut. You get used to working around the dogs.


    • A whole pie?! Wow, betcha she was producing “blue” for days, LOL! And of course tonight for the first time, Magic decided to swipe my desert off the table, when I left the table momentarily. He didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed! Sheesh.

  3. We have three dogs and they all treat food differently. Sydney is happy to eat anything that I give her. Blue is tentative if he’s unsure, but trusts me so he’ll give it a try. Rodrigo trusts me, but he needs time to inspect new things so he takes it gently, leaves the room to inspect his new treat in private 🙂

  4. Pingback: What dogs taste. | SlimDoggy

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