If you own a cat, chances are you’ve placed a bowl of expensive food in front of his or her furry face and then watched them saunter away without so much as a nibble. Dogs, in contrast, will eat poop. So why do cats have such a gastronomic attitude problem?
According to a study recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, it’s because cats are highly in tune with their dietary needs. Felines typically like to ingest a high-protein, moderate-fat diet and are more concerned with food as a source of energy rather than its taste, smell, or texture. If you're not giving them their nutrients, they'll catch on quickly, and send their plate back to the chef.
In the study, furry test subjects were presented with dishes of varying protein-to-fat ratios and flavors: some food tasted like rabbit, some tasted like fish, and some tasted like oranges. While the cats initially preferred food that tasted like prey, dishes that were closest to their nutritional requirements were eventually consumed the most, regardless of whether it reminded them of that delicious dead-animal flavor.
Once a cat has established that a particular meal satisfies his or her nutritional needs, they’re unlikely to sample anything else. Study co-author Adrian Hewson-Hughes believes they have the pet food version of neophobia, or an unwillingness to try new things. As for how cats know a certain food meets their incredibly strict standards for macronutrients, which the study concluded was at a ratio of 1 gram of protein for every .43 gram of fat? Like most feline behaviors, that remains a mystery.