By Denise Fleck
Posing the question, “Can cats eat chocolate?” the reply,
“Mmm, mmm good for humans and bad, bad, bad for cats,” says the Pet Poison Helpline’s team of veterinarians. “Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate, seemingly found everywhere now, are the most dangerous and even small amounts are toxic. Milk chocolate, in larger amounts, causes the same signs – vomiting, restlessness, tremors, seizures and cardiac abnormalities.” The Helpline receives an increased number of calls from worried pet parents around Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day, all holidays where chocolate is abundant.
Simply put, responsible feline moms and dads do their best to keep claws off chocolate! Lacking a “sweet” taste receptor, cats just don’t have a desire for sugary substances, so whether or not cats can eat chocolate, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll find your feline friend scarfing your candy bar or helping herself to the pan of brownies cooling on the counter. However, they can be coaxed into eating chocolate or sometimes their curiosity may get the best of them.
Reaching out to a veterinarian and owner of two integrated award-winning clinics in New Jersey, these facts were confirmed. According to Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT:
“Chocolate actually has about the same toxicity for dogs and cats. Cats just are less likely to eat it and should not.”
Why is chocolate not a good thing?
Chocolate comes from the roasted seeds of the cacao plant and contains a caffeine-like substance known as Theobromine. Theobromine is both a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic meaning it speeds up the heart, lungs and nervous system and pulls fluids from the body. Human bodies are able to cope but cats, being a fraction of our body weight and unable to metabolize chemicals the same as our species, cannot break down and eliminate theobromine which can then lead to toxic levels remaining in their bodies.
Chocolate products from most to least toxic include:
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Baking chocolate
- Dark chocolate (above 60% cacao)
- Semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate
- Milk chocolate
- White chocolate (may cause GI problems but contains little to no Theobromine)
How much is too much?
In regards to cats eating chocolate, zero is the appropriate amount. Says Morgan, “Dark chocolate,
baker’s chocolate and cocoa mix are the most toxic. Milk chocolate is much less deadly, but still should not be fed to cats.” One ounce of milk chocolate contains 60 mg. of theobromine, and according to Morgan’s calculations, “Mild symptoms occur in animals ingesting 20 mg/kg of theobromine, severe signs are seen at 40-50 mg/kg and seizures occur at 60 mg/kg. An 11-pound cat will show signs of toxicity with 100 mg of theobromine ingestion.”
Kittens cannot eat chocolate safely and are more prone to chocolate poisoning than adult cats. Keep in mind that however, that every feline is a unique individual, and weight, age, and general health may all enter into the equation as can the type of chocolate and amount of this sugary dark stuff that is consumed.
Breaking it down into understandable quantities, for a 10 lb. cat, the following could be lethal if swallowed:
- 1½ Tablespoons of cocoa powder
- One square of unsweetened baking chocolate
- 1 ounce of dark chocolate
- Thin slice of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting
- 5 Tablespoons of chocolate syrup
- 23 Hershey’s Kisses (about a third of an 11-ounce bag)
- 2 packages of regular M&Ms
- 2 whole 3 Musketeers bars
The good news here is that cats are finicky, so it is the rare feline that will partake in these quantities of anything! Still, can cats eat chocolate? The answer is a resounding, “No!”
What to be on the look-out for?
“Abnormal heart rhythm (tachycardia, rapid heart rate), tremors (stimulation of the nervous system) and seizures are the most common side effects and can lead to death if the cat consumes enough,” warns Dr. Morgan.
Other signs of chocolate consumption include:
- Restlessness, hyperactivity
- Abdominal tenderness
- Excessive thirst and/or urination
- Coma & death
What to do should the worst happen?
If you suspect your best feline friend has ingested chocolate, high tail it to your veterinarian’s office. There is no antidote once swallowed other than treating the symptoms so that alone should answer any questions regarding if cats eat chocolate! With our canine friends, many a vet may recommend inducing vomiting at home, but not so with our kitty cats. Should your cat vomit on her own, however, that could be a blessing in disguise. Cats are very difficult to cause emesis (induce vomiting) in, even in the veterinarian’s office, so it is generally not suggested you try at home. You risk aspiration pneumonia by attempting and the hydrogen peroxide that most first aiders use can actually inflame a feline tummy! Bring the vomit sample (if you have one) along with any evidence of the sweet treat (wrappers, crumbs, etc.), and get your cat to prompt medical attention.
Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam, obtain a urine sample and may conduct an EKG to determine if there are any abnormalities in kitty’s heart rate. IV fluids will be administered to prevent dehydration, and if there is evidence that her liver has been affected, treatment will begin to protect that filtering organ.
Can cats eat chocolate?
According to a study published in the 2006 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, chocolate is the third highest antioxidant source consumed in the U.S. following coffee and tea. That means there is plenty of it to be found by curious kitties, and if found, can cats eat chocolate? They should not! Chocolate can be beneficial to humans due to flavonoids, which act as antioxidants protecting the body from aging. Dark chocolate actually contains 8 times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries, but… the message here is clear. Although studies show chocolate may have attributes for humans, cats should not eat chocolate, so please keep chocolate out of paws and claws reach!
About the Author:
Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better. Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes and books. You can also find her sharing her pet care expertise at www.crazyrichpets.com