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The Evolutionary Basis for the Feeding Behavior of Domestic Dogs and Cats

Updated: May 8, 2020

DATE: 2006



John W. S. Bradshaw, The Evolutionary Basis for the Feeding Behavior of Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Cats (Felis catus),The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 7, 1 July 2006, Pages 1927S–1931S



The dentition, sense of taste and meal patterning of domestic dogs and cats can be interpreted in terms of their descent from members of the order Carnivora. The dog is typical of its genus, Canis, in its relatively unspecialized dentition, and a taste system that is rather insensitive to salt. The preference of many dogs for large infrequent meals reflects the competitive feeding behavior of its pack-hunting ancestor, the wolf Canis lupus. However, its long history of domestication, possibly 100,000 years, has resulted in great intraspecific diversity of conformation and behavior, including feeding. Morphologically and physiologically domestic cats are highly specialized carnivores, as indicated by their dentition, nutritional requirements, and sense of taste, which is insensitive to both salt and sugars. Their preference for several small meals each day reflects a daily pattern of multiple kills of small prey items in their ancestor, the solitary territorial predator Felis silvestris. Although in the wild much of their food selection behavior must focus on what to hunt, rather than what to eat, cats do modify their food preferences based on experience. For example, the “monotony effect” reduces the perceived palatability of foods that have recently formed a large proportion of the diet, in favor of foods with contrasting sensory characteristics, thereby tending to compensate for any incipient nutritional deficiencies. Food preferences in kittens during weaning are strongly influenced by those of their mother, but can change considerably during at least the first year of life.


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