Palatability refers to observations of a food’s taste, smell, and texture. It is an important food trait because, pets must be eager to eat acceptable quantities of the food to satisfy their daily calorie and nutrient needs. Unpalatable foods will be vetoed, irrespective of the quality of their ingredients or balance of important nutrients. Dogs and cats vary somewhat in the food characteristics that they find necessary. Cats are strongly moved by the aroma of a food and will cautiously smell a new food before trying it. Dogs often desire foods that are elevated in fat and incorporated protein from animal sources. For both dogs and cats, the texture, size, and shape of food pieces are vital; scientists who study palatability state to this as “mouth feel”.
Lastly, in addition to animals’ sensory likings, scientists who study palatability also believe the pet’s environment and the owner’s responses to different types and flavors of food. Similar to digestibility, there are a number of ways that pet food companies evaluate a food’s palatability. Tests that measure the animal’s favourite when initially presented with a new food provide information about the instant appeal of the food’s smell, appearance and texture.
Long-term interest is measured using food preference studies. Each dog or cat is offered a choice of two diets that are presented in undistinguishable bowls to the left and right. Surplus food is presented in each bowl and the positions of the bowls are swapped daily to account for dogs or cats with right- or left-side preferences. The quantity of each food that is consumed at each meal is measured over a period of several days. These tests deliver information about a food’s suitability to dogs and cats over time and its relative palatability when matched with other foods. And, finally, the ultimate test of palatability involves giving the food to pets in homes, where both the pet’s and the owner’s perceptions of the food are measured.