Factors that impact Palatability in Feline Diets

23 Aug 2023

Factors that impact Palatability in Feline Diets

Factors that impact Palatability in Feline Diets

A well-balanced diet must provide all essential nutrients, and it should also include flavors that stimulate intake. Palatability is crucial because even if a diet is complete and well-balanced, it falls short of promoting optimal intake without appealing taste.

palatabilidade-gatosTaking this into account, diet palatability can be increased through the use of additives, such as flavor enhancers or natural ingredients (Pekel et al., 2020).


The palatability of the diet plays an important role in optimizing energy and nutrient intake in domestic cats by ensuring an adequate food intake.

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Odor, taste, texture, and particle size are additional factors that play a significant role in the dietary preferences of cats (Hullar et al., 2001; Small and Prescott 2005).

To achieve palatability, cat food must possess quality ingredients, undergo appropriate processing that enhances the sensory qualities of the final product, incorporate consistent flavor enhancers and fats. In addition to having an appealing texture and kibble shape. It should also maintain a well-balanced pH and provide an alluring combination of taste and aroma.


The significance of odor perception is substantial in cats and plays a crucial role in their food selection and consumption. Cats rely on scent to identify foods that meet their nutritional requirements and to identify potentially toxic substances.

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palatabilidade-odorCats offset their relatively limited taste capacity, stemming from a lower number of taste buds, by relying on their highly-developed olfactory system.

Cats are initially drawn to food by its odor. Thus, flavor enhancers impact the palatability of foods in two different ways:

palatabilidade-1The first type, referred to as flavors influencing the ‘initial selection,’ relates to the initial food item that cats sample in preference tests. These flavors predominantly impact cats’ olfactory perception, amplifying their appeal.

palatabilidade-2Secondly, the phenomenon of the “continuous choice effect” emerges when cats are consistently offered the same food and flavor, showcasing the prolonged adoption of a particular food (Tobie et al. 2015). Within this continuous choice scenario, elements such as taste, mouthfeel, texture, among various others, exert greater influence over palatability compared to solely the food’s odor.


Though cats rely on their sense of taste to evaluate food nutrients, this sensory ability also serves as a protective mechanism against the consumption of toxic substances, harmful ingredients, or indigestible components.

Furthermore, it’s recognized that the physiological condition of hunger influences cats’ eating behavior (Peachey and Harper 2002).

A study revealed that cats prefer more palatable foods regardless of their level of hunger. Nevertheless, the study also noted that cats might opt for less palatable diets based on their level of hunger (Van den Bos et al., 2000).

Another factor that influences food acceptability is age, as advancing age results in a significant decrease in olfactory receptors, thereby reducing the sense of smell. Moreover, age has also been associated with a concurrent loss of taste (Boyce and Shone 2006).

Additionally, there are dietary aspects that influence palatability. Although cats can consume dry or semi-moist foods, their preference is predominantly for wet or canned foods because the moisture content of these options closely mirrors that of meat (70-85%) (Zaghini and Biagi 2005).

Regarding protein content, a strong positive correlation exists between protein level and palatability, particularly when animal protein sources are utilized (Zaghini and Biagi 2005).

Another widely acknowledged fact is that the palatability of foods increases proportionally with higher fat content.

dieta-palatabilidadeA diet abundant in fat can effectively address cats’ energy needs while enhancing palatability, even if their food intake is lower than expected (Delaney 2006).

A variety of compounds can be integrated into cat foods, serving nutritional, functional, and enhancement of palatability purposes.

Moreover, beyond their role in enhancing palatability, food additives can also find applications in maintaining dental hygiene (e.g., phosphates), introducing color to food, revitalizing cats’ breath, or even camouflaging undesirable odors for human perception within cat diets (e.g., vanilla fragrance).

Spray-dried animal plasma is commonly incorporated, particularly in canned pet foods, owing to its notable ability to retain water, resulting in enhanced gelation and emulsification properties (Rodríguez et al., 2016). Moreover, there have been indications of heightened palatability in diets containing spray-dried animal plasma as opposed to those containing wheat gluten (Polo et al., 2005).



Dry yeast, a byproduct of the ethanol industry, and brewer’s yeast are also utilized as flavor enhancers in the pet food industry.

Although cats are known to lack a taste for salt, the addition of 0.3% choline chloride has been reported to have a similar salty flavor in other animals, proving useful in enhancing palatability and consumption of dry cat food (Lin et al., 1997).

However, the physiological mechanism underlying this relationship remains unclear.

In summary, the utilization of behavioral responses during food intake in conjunction with preference and intake data can be advantageous in providing more comprehensive insights into the determination of palatability in pet food. Additionally, the development of novel flavor enhancers and palatability boosters may improve the acceptability of certain ingredients that are still rejected by cats.

Bibliographical references available upon request.

Source: This article was originally published as a content in portuguese in nutriNews Brasil 2023

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