May 20, 2015


Can we learn something about the feline taste experience just by watching cats eat? What do cats find bitter—and how does that influence their taste preferences? These are just two recent complex research questions AFB International has been exploring.

At AFB, we are dedicated to making sure products perform for our two- and four-legged customers. That’s the reason we maintain a robust research department and routinely communicate our latest insights through presentations, white papers and scientific journals.

April was a busy month for sharing and gleaning insights. As AFB’s director of basic research, I attended both the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) annual meeting in Bonita Springs, Florida, USA, and Petfood Forum 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. At each event, a colleague and I presented research that delves into the feline taste experience.

A Meeting of the Minds, Noses and Tongues

This year, more than 500 attendees gathered for the AChemS annual meeting, the nation’s leading summit on the roles of smell and taste in both human and animal health. For me, this four-day meeting featuring nearly 350 presentations is like a family reunion for our close-knit community of scientists and clinicians from around the world—many who see each other just this one time a year. 

One way research is shared at AChemS is through posters—up to 100 in one room! In this presentation format, authors stand by their posters for a morning or evening and answer questions from curious attendees. This year, I shared a poster on AFB’s bitter receptor research—presented in greater depth to the pet food industry at Petfood Forum—and AFB research intern Michaela Hanson of Sweden’s LinkÖping University shared AFB’s feline taste reactivity research. Michaela joined us at AFB’s USA headquarters, where she worked under the supervision of AFB behavioral scientist Susan Jojola to conduct the research.

The taste reactivity research used video and intake data to identify cats’ immediate reactions to certain tastes. What can we learn by watching tongues, eyes, ears and noses? Plenty, it seems. The research is another tool to understand cats’ flavor experiences based on their responses—rather than human assumptions. Similar work had been conducted with monkeys, rats and horses, but this is the first known work with cats on video, placing AFB at the forefront in applying these methods to feline flavor perception.

A Warm Reception for Bitter Receptors

At Petfood Forum, I presented AFB’s feline bitter receptor research in an expanded 40-minute format to more than 100 attendees representing a cross-section of the pet food industry—a number of whom stayed behind to ask questions. As AFB’s Robert Lifmann noted in a previous post, many also responded to an invitation to stop by the AFB booth to take a quick taste test with bitter receptor lead researcher Michelle Sandau. They learned whether they are among the 25% of people who are “super tasters,” meaning they can perceive a certain bitter taste that, like cats, might affect their flavor preferences.

This AFB feline research centers on better understanding what cats find bitter and how it influences their food selection. Since we can’t just ask them, we identified and characterized the responses of two feline bitter receptors to a series of compounds known to be bitter to humans and compared those responses to those of the human receptors for the same compounds.

The results are helping us learn how to improve palatant design by identifying components that alter flavors to precisely match the cat’s sense of taste. We’re also gaining understanding into how to make pet food palatants that perform consistently across animals and breeds.

Stay Tuned

Watch this blog space and our website at for more details to come on both AFB’s feline bitter receptor and taste reactivity research. We welcome your questions and comments. Email me directly at or share below.


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