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Spice is nice–but is it for dogs?

If you have a taste for hot sauce, you may wonder if your dog likes spicy food, too. But before you start sharing spicy snacks with the dog, read on to learn about how dogs taste food.

How dog tastebuds work

Dogs have incredibly sensitive noses, but their tongues are a different story. Dogs have an average of 1,700 taste buds in their mouth. While that number may sound like a lot, when it comes to taste buds, it’s actually quite low! For comparison, human beings have around 9,000 taste buds on their tongues.

But what does the number of tastebuds have to do with spicy food? The more tastebuds an animal has, the more taste sensitivity they have. Fewer tastebuds=less taste. Your dog simply can’t discern as many flavors as you can.

One area where dogs do have better taste then people: water! Dog tongues have special water-specific tastebuds on the tip of their tongue.

What dogs can and can’t taste

According to research, dogs have taste receptors for the same four major taste types as humans: salty, bitter, sour, and sweet. However, just because they can sense the same types of tastes doesn’t mean they react to them the same way.

In general, dogs have far less taste sensitivity than humans. For example, your dog likes the smell and flavor of meat as much as you do (if you’re an omnivore), but they can’t tell the difference between chicken and beef in the same way you can.

Dogs also have less of an affinity for salt. Scientists think dogs evolved to find salt less palatable because they got plenty of it in their regular diet and don’t need to seek out more. Dogs in the wild have a diet consisting of about 80 percent meat, a naturally salty food. If they had a taste for extra salt on top of that, they might take in too much.

Dogs do have an affinity for sweet flavors, which likely developed because their omnivorous ancestors ate lots of fruit in the wild. Unfortunately, too much sugar is bad for dogs, so they should have sweet things in moderation.

Tastes dogs don’t like (including most spicy stuff)

Like humans, dogs, don’t love sour or bitter-tasting things. That’s why so many chew-deterrent sprays are bitter! It also explains why most dogs don’t like spicy foods. 

Just watch the above video of a dog tasting a hot pepper. From the moment she sniffs the pepper, she seems skeptical that it will taste good. Then, she takes a tentative lick, and it takes a few moments for her to react. This delay between bite and reaction happens because the taste buds that sense bitterness and sourness are located towards the back of the tongue.

When a dog tastes something spicy, it takes a moment for the flavor to reach the appropriate taste buds. When they do get a spicy taste on their tongue, they may not react to the heat the same way a human would, but they definitely react to the bitter or sour flavor.

Smell matters more

Although dogs do not have a very sophisticated sense of taste, their sense of smell is incredible. Their noses usually prevent them from eating something that tastes bad.

Of course, smell and taste are closely related. Dogs actually have an organ along their palate that helps them “taste” food through smell, and they tend to favor fatty and meaty smells.

Although spices like cumin, chili powder, and curry may smell delicious to you, they might not be your dog’s favorite.

The spice takeaway

Even if your dog does enjoy spicy smells, and begs for a bite of your meaty, spicy curry, think twice before giving in. Some dogs are more spice-tolerant than others, but spicy foods may cause discomfort such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Excessive thirst

In general, it’s best to save the spice for yourself, and let your dog thrive on a healthy, balanced, dog-appropriate diet.

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