Taste Deterrents for Cats and Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 07, 2023
3 min read

Puppies and kittens chew to learn more about their world and to relieve the pain of teething. Chewing helps older pets keep their teeth clean and their jaws healthy. Your pet may also chew because they are bored, anxious, or frustrated. There may also be some underlying behavior issues at the heart of your cat's chewing.

While it's normal for pets to chew, you may find taste deterrents like a bitter apple spray helpful to stop your pet from destroying your stuff. Before using taste deterrents with your pet, you need to be sure that there are no health issues causing their chewing habits, such as gum disease or stomach problems. 

Although dogs have about one-sixth of the taste buds that humans do, your dog's sense of smell is much more advanced than people’s. Like humans, dogs can identify sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Cats have only 480 taste buds, and they only have taste receptors for salty, sour, and bitter. Like dogs, cats have a strong sense of smell and dislike anything that tastes bitter. 

Since your pet has such a strong sense of smell, taste deterrents work through your pet's sense of smell. You introduce them to the taste, which they then associate with the smell. Once they've had an unpleasant experience associated with that smell, they'll avoid it in the future. Taste deterrents take advantage of your pet's dislike of bitter and spicy flavors by using those sensations to discourage chewing. Bitter apple sprays and spicy or hot sprays are commonly used deterrents. 

When you first introduce a bitter apple spray to your cat or dog, apply a small amount to a cotton ball or piece of tissue. Place this directly into your pet's mouth. If your pet spits out the tissue, retches, drools, or shakes their head, it means they don’t like the bitter taste. These reactions are good — they indicate that your pet will try to avoid the bitter taste of the spray in the future.

Spicy-hot sprays can be introduced in the same way, but you need to remove your pet's access to water for half an hour after you introduce it. If your pet figures out that they can get rid of the unpleasant sensation by drinking water, it won't be as effective. However, never take away your pet's water for any longer than this, since they need fresh water to be healthy. 

Once you've established that your pet does not like the taste deterrent and will avoid it, spray it on anything you don't want your cat or dog to chew. You'll need to reapply it every day for two to four weeks until your pet learns not to chew whatever you've sprayed. 

Taste deterrents are one of many tools that should be used to teach your pet what they can chew and what they can't. You will need to use it combined with other strategies to control destructive chewing. 

Provide acceptable alternatives. Give your dog or cat chew toys to encourage healthy chewing habits. Notice what they like to chew on and offer toys that are similar. Rotate your pet's toys every few days and offer new toys frequently to prevent boredom. Make sure the toys you give them are safe and nontoxic

Exercise your pet. Boredom is often a cause of destructive chewing, so making sure that your pet gets plenty of exercise and has opportunities to play will help prevent it. An added bonus to physical exercise is that tired dogs and cats don't have the energy to be destructive.

Pet-proof your house. The easiest way to stop your pet from chewing your stuff is to keep your items out of reach. Place your belongings where your pet can't reach them and make sure to praise your pet when they pick up their toys instead of your shoes.

Supervise your pet. Until your dog or cat understands the house rules, try to provide them with constant supervision. If you can't supervise your pet, you can contain them in a crate or enclosed area away from chewable objects for up to six hours. If you see your pet chewing on something they shouldn't be, say, "Uh-oh," and exchange the object with something safe for them to chew.