The aim of this study was to expand that knowledge by identifying behavioural indicators correlating with three degrees of palatability. Thirty-four pet cats were presented with three types of items: favoured food (FF), favoured food with a placebo mini-tablet hidden inside (TFF) and nonfavoured food (NFF). The items were presented in a pseudo-randomised sequence, with six trials per item and 18 trials per cat. The behaviour of cats before, during and after eating, or refusing to eat, was video recorded.
Two trained observers, blinded to the types of food items, independently determined the frequency of 16 behavioural patterns on the video recordings. Five behavioural patterns differentiated FF from NFF; ‘flick ears backwards’, ‘lick nose’, ‘not eaten’, ‘flick tail’ and ‘groom body’ were more frequent with NFF, whereas ‘lick lips’ was more frequent with FF. One indicator, ‘drop item’, was more frequent with TFF than FF. These findings provide evidence of new behavioural indicators for objective assessment of food perception in cats. The findings also have practical applicability in designing a novel palatability test to be utilised in developing veterinary pharmaceuticals with improved palatability for cats. (MK)