Kito, my exuberant Shih-Tzu, is always somewhere close when its mealtime, both his meal and mine. He doesn’t care what I am eating; he just wants some. While I am tempted to share, I restrain myself when eating something spicy. I don’t know if spicy food is something he would like or if I should even be giving it to him. Like all dog lovers, I only want what’s best for my furry friend. I had to find out what was good and what wasn’t. Since spicy food is a regular guest at our table, I questioned if that cuisine was also appealing to my dog.
Buffalo chicken wings, curry shrimp, peppers, and jalapenos in anything speak to my taste buds, loud and clear; and I love it! While not a spicy food maniac, I do enjoy a little zing in many of my dishes. It is not normal to eat certain foods without that added heat. It does make a difference, so wanting to share this love with my dog had me thinking. Can dogs taste spicy food?
The short answer is “yes.” Dogs can taste spicy foods. Of course, they can, they have taste buds so it stands to reason that they can taste spicy foods as well as other flavors. What dogs cannot do, is taste the array of flavors that humans can taste. Dogs only have about 1,700 tastes buds compared to the 9,000 that humans possess. Dogs do not experience the nuance of flavors the way humans do when they eat, but that does not mean they do not enjoy the experience. They are just less discriminating when it comes to taste.
The long answer is “yes, but …” Dogs can taste the spicy food, but their eating experience is intrinsically intertwined with their sense of smell. While humans win in the taste bud count, dogs slay humans when it comes to their sense of smell. A dog’s sense of smell is up to one million times stronger than that of a human’s. This means that a dog also needs the smell of the food to be appealing. This can be said of humans as well, but what if we could smell one million times stronger than we do. There is a whole, another level of smell that humans are not aware of. If we were, we too might be able to pick out the wonderful aromas that reside in garbage cans and other undesirable places that our dogs seem to be drawn to.
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Dogs have this special gift of “taste smell” that humans do not. Dogs can taste foods through their sense of smell. They have an organ along their palate that allows them this special sensory connection. It’s quite amazing. Does spicy food have an appealing “taste smell” to dogs? It would seem that in asking if a dog can taste the spicy food, one must also address how that particular food smells. If we follow the logic that the “taste-smell” is a vital component to a dog’s sensory food pleasure, then determining the aromatic appeal of spicy food is an important variable. Understanding this connection should make us pay more attention to how good our dog’s food smells. This appears to be more important than how the food taste.
When it comes to the experience of taste, is it better to have way more taste buds or to have a unique taste smell connection? Which one makes for a better tasting experience? It may seem intuitive to believe that having more taste buds wins, but having never experienced that special taste smell connection, who could say? What is obvious, is that if a dog can smell it and it smells good, then it will be tasted.
I would be remiss if I simply left my findings with the above paragraphs. The fact that dogs can taste spicy foods does not mean that they should. We are all inclined to share those things that we like with our dogs, but we should also be mindful of what is best for them. Simply speaking, spicy foods can cause problems and those with sensitivities often limit their intake for various health reasons. Most notably, the pain and discomfort some people suffer because of the gastrointestinal havoc that occurs after ingesting spicy foods.
Humans learn this from trial and error. We stay away from those foods that do not agree with us. How would we know if something our dog ate didn’t agree with them? Diarrhea is, of course, an easy sign to identify and we can certainly take note of the cause and remove it from your dog’s diet. But, how can our dogs communicate stomach cramps or heartburn to us? A dog’s special taste-smell connection may also lead them to later problems. Something that smells good may not ultimately be good for the dog’s gastrointestinal processes.
Spicy foods have been a part of the human diet for over 8,000 years. People who are used to eating spicy foods have grown accustomed to the taste and find food without the requisite spiciness bland and unappealing. But, is this an appropriate diet for our dogs? They have not had the benefit of growing accustomed to spicy food. Treating dogs like they have had the benefit of an evolved diet preference can be detrimental to their overall wellness.
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Some spicy foods like peppers, garlic, and curry are credited with providing key vitamins and minerals that have positive health benefits for humans. But some of these spices are harmful to dogs. There are also some spices that may be beneficial for dogs, like turmeric. So, knowing which are good and which are harmful is an important factor when determining what to share with your dog. Many times the effectiveness of these spices is not only about what is good for dogs in general but specifically, what is good for a particular dog.
So, can dogs taste spicy foods?
Yes. Dogs can taste the spicy food, but not the same way humans do.
Should dogs eat spicy foods? Probably not…