They promote dental health and can help with weight management in overweight or always hungry dogs. But can your furry friend actually experience and enjoy the taste of these nutritious treats? Are they able to detect the sweet, aromatic flavor that we can, or do they simply just send them down the hatch? Let's take a closer look!
Signs of a Dog Enjoying Carrots
As it turns out, dogs have taste receptors for sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, just like humans. Research shows that our canine companions even have an affinity for sweets. However, they only have about 1,700 taste buds, compared to a human's 9,000, and thus, are much less sensitive to tastes.
For dogs, their sense of smell plays a huge role in deciding whether or not they will eat something. Their ability to taste will contribute to whether they keep coming back for more! A dog that is enjoying a certain food may scarf it down quickly, sniff for more once they've finished eating, stare attentively in your direction, whine in anticipation of receiving it, or even begin to salivate and drool!
- Raise ears
- Devouring the food quickly, rather than taking their time
- Drinking water directly after eating
- Coming back for more
History of Dogs Tasting Carrots
It is well-known from gene analysis that today's domestic dog evolved from grey wolves in China around 20,000 years ago. As it is crucial to their survival, the sense of taste develops early on in dogs. At birth, the abilities to touch, smell, and taste actually seem to be the only working senses in puppies. It takes a few weeks for them to fully develop and sharpen their taste.
Wolves use their ability to taste enjoyable or unpleasant sensations as a survival function. The general rule of thumb is that good tastes indicate a food is beneficial and digestible while bad tastes signify a food is indigestible or even hazardous.
While the majority of their diet is made up of meat, dogs are actually omnivores and consuming fruits and vegetables is in their history. In the wild, they supplemented their predatory diet with whatever plant material they could find, including plenty of fruits. Thus, dogs tend to have an affinity for things that taste sweet.
Their ability to taste and enjoy carrots, with their slightly sweet and aromatic flavor, is likely due to this. While they can recognize and enjoy flavors like these, dogs’ palates actually have flavor receptors that are specifically attuned to meats, fats, and the related chemical compounds.
The diet of their wolf ancestors was comprised of 80 percent meat. This also explains why salt is much less palatable to dogs. It is an evolutionary response to reduce excessive salt intake, as they acquire plenty of it from meat’s high sodium content.
Science Behind Dogs Tasting Carrots
Carrots provide excellent contributions to a dog’s diet. They are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help protect cells from damage, and vitamin A, which is essential to healthy vision.
As mentioned earlier, dogs have a tendency to enjoy sweet foods, as their ancestors supplemented their meat-rich diet with fruits. High in naturally-occuring sugars, the slightly sweet flavor of carrots appeals to many dogs. When dogs taste sweet, their taste buds are recognizing a compound called furaneol.
Interestingly, their cat counterparts are virtually taste-blind to this substance. Cats are also much less sensitive to taste, with only 470 taste buds compared to a dogs 1,700. Since cats are also obligate carnivores - they are unlikely to show any interest in carrots.
A dog’s ability to taste is attributed to their taste buds, or papillae, located primarily on the top surface of their tongue, with some on the roof of their mouth and back near their throats. Dogs are able to detect the same basic flavors as we are- sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. However, these taste receptors are not distributed evenly throughout the mouth.
Dogs taste sweet near the tip and along the sides of the tongue. Salty and sour flavors are detected farther back on the sides of the tongue, but the areas that taste salt are rather small. Bitter tastes are recognized on the far back area of the tongue.
In addition to these flavors, dogs actually have a special taste sense attuned to water. Located at the very tip of their tongue, the part used to lap up water, these taste receptors are especially sensitive after the animal consumes sweet or salty substances.
This is likely an evolutionary development to ensure the animals are efficiently balancing their internal fluids after eating things that may cause them to fluctuate, like salty and sweet substances. This theory explains why dogs tend to enjoy drinking water more after eating.
Training Dogs Using Carrots
Due to their nutritious value and appealing taste, carrots are a great tool to use for training your four-legged friend. Their low-calorie content makes more frequent feeding acceptable and the crunchy nature has added benefits of teeth cleaning.
Raw baby carrots are a great tool when using positive reinforcement to reward your dog for good behaviors. Many dogs love carrots and will gladly accept them in their natural, raw form. It is raw carrots that possess the teeth cleaning attributes, but their nutrients are harder to process in this form.
Some dogs will turn up their noses to raw carrots. As an alternative, you cake steam or bake them. This enhances the flavor and actually makes the carrots a bit more digestible for your furry friend.
You can also freeze carrots as a satisfying reward or chew toy for your dog. This is a great option to soothe the sore mouths of teething puppies or slow down aggressive chewers. However, frozen baby carrots can be a choking hazard. It is best to freeze whole carrots or larger pieces for this reason.
Avoid feeding more than one whole carrot a day, as they are quite high in fiber. Grating, peeling, or blending carrots are other options for incorporating them into your dog’s diet. In this form, dogs reap the most health benefits, as the nutrients can be more readily absorbed.
You can use carrot puree to disguise medicine or top their food with peelings to make it more appealing. There are a plethora of ways to incorporate carrots into your dog's diet and training regime.
Safety Tips for Feeding Your Dog Carrots
Feed carrots in moderation due to their fiber and sugar content
Wash carrots well before feeding
If offering frozen carrots, make sure pieces are large to prevent choking