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Can Cats Eat Chocolate?

Updated May 30, 2022
Can Cats Eat Chocolate?

Human food often piques interest in felines, and sweets aren’t an exception. But can cats eat chocolate?

Cats are naturally curious and love to try new foods. But just because they want to do it doesn’t mean they should.

Felines tend to be picky eaters, and many owners believe their pet knows what’s best for its health. However, the obsession of some cats over chocolate bars debunks this myth.

Sharing your food with your four-legged friend may be tempting, but you should be aware of the risks of feeding cats chocolate.

Even a small piece of this sweet treat can cause severe symptoms that require urgent veterinary intervention.

Is Chocolate Safe for Cats?

Chocolate may have negative long-term consequences for humans, but it isn’t dangerous in moderate amounts. But what about pets? Is chocolate safe for cats, or is it toxic?

Cats can eat some human foods safely, but chocolate isn’t on the list. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine. Both these ingredients are highly toxic to felines and other pets.

Theobromine is a mild stimulant contained in cocoa that, similarly to caffeine, drops blood pressure and acts as a diuretic. The human body naturally metabolizes theobromine, but the feline body doesn’t.

When a toxic element isn’t metabolized, it absorbs into the body. Toxic substance build-up can have severe consequences, including liver failure, seizures, and death. Timely treatment is vital to save a cat’s life.

The chocolate toxicity to cats largely depends on the amount of cocoa. For this reason, milk and dark chocolate are significantly more dangerous for cats than white chocolate. Although white chocolate doesn’t contain cocoa, it contains cocoa butter.

Baking chocolate is the most dangerous for cats because it contains the highest levels of theobromine.

As if two toxic ingredients aren’t a sufficient risk, chocolate also contains milk. Kittens can consume milk without any adverse effects because their bodies produce an enzyme called lactase necessary to break down lactose.

However, lactase production stops when kittens reach six months old, so most adult cats are lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance is unlikely to kill a cat, but gastroenteric upset doesn’t help deal with caffeine and theobromine poisoning.

Due to a combination of caffeine, theobromine, sugars, and dairy, chocolate is the most dangerous food for cats, even worse than coffee or tea.

Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity

Cats are curious creatures that love to lurk in prohibited places and eat anything they find. Even if you keep chocolate out of your pet’s reach, the odds of it eating the treat are never zero.

Therefore, you should know the symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats to spot the problem early and provide timely treatment.

Chocolate poisoning in cats manifests primarily with gastroenteric symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and flatulence.

Vomiting and diarrhea are actually helpful because they remove toxins from the cat’s body, preventing them from absorbing. However, this natural body reaction isn’t always sufficient to save a cat from death.

Apart from gastroenteric symptoms, a cat may experience cardiovascular and respiratory system reactions, including rapid breathing, increased heartbeat, and cardiac arrest.

Additionally, a cat that has ingested chocolate may display weakness or agitation, muscle rigidity, increased reflex response, and an elevated body temperature. Without timely treatment, the poisoning may lead to seizures, coma, and death.

At first, the symptoms may resemble regular gastroenteric upset or food allergy, so owners unaware of chocolate toxicity may not take the symptoms seriously.

Late treatment is one of the most common causes of death due to chocolate poisoning in cats.

Typically, the first symptoms manifest within an hour of ingesting chocolate, but each cat’s metabolism and immune system’s response is unique. You shouldn’t assume that your cat is safe if it hasn’t developed symptoms within an hour.

How Much Chocolate Is Toxic to Cats?

Like with any poison, the amount of chocolate ingested plays a critical role in its toxicity.

Unfortunately, there’s no definite answer to how much chocolate is toxic to cats – the toxicity varies depending on the chocolate type, the cat’s weight, and underlying conditions.

The lethal dose of theobromine for cats is about 100 milligrams per pound of body weight, so an average ten-pound cat would have to ingest about 1,000 milligrams or one gram of the chemical to die.

Baking chocolate contains between 130 and 450 milligrams of theobromine per ounce, so a cat would have to consume two ounces of baking chocolate to die. However, even half an ounce can cause severe toxicity symptoms.

Regular milk chocolate only contains 50 milligrams of theobromine per ounce on average, so a lethal dose of milk chocolate would be 20 ounces.

The theobromine content in white chocolate is insignificant – 0.25 milligrams per ounce.

However, theobromine is only one of the toxic elements in chocolate, and the lethal dose of caffeine for cats is significantly lower. Caffeine toxicity symptoms manifest after ingesting about nine milligrams of the element per pound of body weight.

For the symptoms to be severe, a cat would have to ingest at least 20 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight, and the lethal dose of caffeine for cats is about 75 milligrams per pound of body weight.

Dark chocolate contains about 43 milligrams of caffeine per ounce and milk about 20 milligrams per ounce.

A cat is unlikely to eat two ounces of chocolate, but the toxicity is multiplied due to a combination of caffeine and theobromine.

As a rule of thumb, the minimum amount of milk chocolate that is toxic for a cat is approximately an ounce, and dark chocolate is half an ounce. Meanwhile, a cat can get severely sick from a tiny piece of 0.2 ounces of baking chocolate.

The good news is that white chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine. Combined with negligible levels of theobromine, it’s unlikely to kill a cat or cause severe symptoms, but even a mild gastroenteric upset isn’t desirable for a cat.

Treatment of Chocolate Toxicity

If you suspect that your cat could have ingested a toxic amount of chocolate, call a vet immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry because the timely veterinary intervention is the only way to save a cat’s life in the case of severe poisoning.

A vet may begin by conducting a complete physical examination and lab tests, including an electrolyte panel, chemical blood profile, and ECG. The tests are necessary to identify abnormalities in the cat’s heart work.

The treatment of chocolate poisoning in cats typically includes administering intravenous fluids because vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration. Furthermore, intravenous fluids speed up metabolism, helping to remove toxins from the body quicker.

The veterinarian may also induce vomit if the cat isn’t already vomiting to remove the remaining toxin from the gastroenteric tract. Then, they may provide the cat with medications to ease specific symptoms, such as seizures or low blood pressure.

In severe cases, the cat may be placed on a ventilator or monitored for cardiac activity. The poor creature may have to stay in the hospital for several days because it shouldn’t be left without supervision.

Never attempt to induce vomit or otherwise deal with symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats at home. Over-the-counter medications or a lack of correct treatment may only worsen your pet’s condition.

With timely and correct treatment, cats fully recover without lasting consequences. However, if the treatment is late or inadequate, a cat may suffer from long-term effects, including heart conditions and chronic gastroenteric problems.

Why Does My Cat Want Chocolate?

Humans know not to eat poisonous plants, whether because of evolutionary memory, availability of information online, or pungent smell. Unfortunately, cats aren’t aware of chocolate toxicity because they aren’t exposed to it in nature and can’t read.

There’s no definite explanation as to why a cat likes chocolate. Some people suggest that their pet has a sweet tooth, but that’s a misconception. Cats are carnivores, and their diet doesn’t include carbs.

For this reason, cat taste buds have evolved to detect proteins but not sugars. Cats simply can’t sense sweet flavors, so your pet is completely indifferent to sugars contained in chocolate, ice cream, or cookies.

Instead, cats crave milk and fats contained in chocolate. Although most adult cats are lactose intolerant, many still admire milk – perhaps, it reminds them of kittenhood and makes them feel safe.

So, if your cat has developed a taste for chocolate, you may replace this dangerous treat with any fat but non-toxic foods, such as lactose-free cheese or salmon.

Another possible explanation is that some cats just like something about the flavor or texture of chocolate. Like us, cats have different taste preferences, and some cats crave foods not intended for feline consumption.

After all, some cats are plainly curious. Felines want to get a taste of any new food they find, especially if they see that their owner enjoys it.

Cats can’t understand that our dietary needs are different and can even become upset if their favorite human doesn’t share their food.

If that’s the case with your cat, eat chocolate while your pet isn’t around or give it safe treats whenever it asks for your food.

Image credit: Unsplash

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