Cat World > Feline Nutrition > Can I Give My Cat Chocolate?

Chocolate (Theobromine) Poisoning in Cats

Can I Give My Cat Chocolate?

chocolate poisoning in catsThe short answer is no. The roasted beans of the cacao plant, which chocolate is derived from, contains naturally occurring methylxanthines which are a group of alkaloids (a plant compound which has a central nervous system effect on animals and humans). Chocolate contains both theobromine and caffeine which serve the seeds well, their toxic properties protect the seeds from being consumed by insects.

Dogs are generally more susceptible to chocolate poisoning than cats, no doubt because they are more likely to consume large quantities of chocolate, whereas cats are generally more selective eaters as well as being unable to taste sweetness so chocolate doesn't hold the same appeal as it does with dogs and humans.

Different kinds of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. Cooking chocolate and cocoa contains the highest levels of theobromine, followed by dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. The chart below lists the levels of theobromine in various types of chocolate.

According to Nutrition Data, below is the quantity of caffeine and theobromine in various types of chocolate.

Type (source)

Theobromine

Caffeine

Dry cocoa powder

576 mg per oz/28 g

64 mg per oz/28 g

Baking chocolate

363 mg per oz/28 g

22.4 mg per oz/28 g

Dark chocolate 70-85%

225 mg per oz/28 g

22.4 mg per oz/28 g

Milk chocolate

57.4 mg per oz/28 g

5.6 mg per oz/28 g

White chocolate

Insignificant

Insignificant

The lethal dose of theobromine poisoning is as little as 100 mg per kg of bodyweight and 150 mg per kg of bodyweight for caffeine. So as you can see, a cat who ingested just half an ounce of dark chocolate would have consumed a lethal dose of theobromine. As little as 10 mg per kg of bodyweight is enough to cause symptoms. Even if they don't consume a lethal dose, ingestion of theobromine will cause acute sickness. As we have already noted, caffeine is toxic to cats also, however the levels of caffeine in chocolate are fairly low and cats metabolise this much faster than they do theobromine, so this article will focus mostly on that.

Veterinarians commonly report an increase in cases of chocolate poisoning in cats around holiday periods such as Easter and Christmas where well meaning pet owners share their treats. If you suspect or know your cat (or dog) has ingested chocolate seek veterinary advice immediately. The earlier a cat is treated, the better the outcome. If consumption was

Another less commonly talked about problem with chocolate is its high fat content which can lead to pancreatitis in cats. This is an extremely painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed due to the inappropriate activation of digestive enzymes which begin to break down the pancreas. There are a number of causes, including high levels of fat in the blood (hyperlipidemia).

What does theobromine do?

As we have already said, theobromine and caffeine are there to protect the seeds (beans) from insects consuming them. Both compounds cause a variety of central nervous symptoms, respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms in cats and dogs (we all know caffeine is a stimulant to humans too, but we are able to metabolise it much quicker than cats and dogs, plus we are larger.

Both compounds cause the following symptoms:

  • It acts as a diuretic, causing the body to lose fluids.

  • Cardiac stimulant, causing the heart to race.

  • Central nervous system stimulant.

Theobromine cause central nervous system stimulation, diureses (increased urine production), cardiac muscle stimulation and smooth muscle relaxation.

What are the symptoms of chocolate poisoning in cats?

Symptoms vary on the age of the cat (kittens are more susceptible than adults due to their smaller size), the quantity of chocolate consumed as well as the type of chocolate eaten. Dry cocoa powder and the darker chocolates contain higher amounts of theobromine and therefore are more dangerous.  

Clinical effects can occur within four hours of ingestion, but may take as long as 72 hours. The first signs of theobromine poisoning can include:

  • Vomiting, which may smell of chocolate and/or contain blood

  • Diarrhea

  • Agitation

  • Drooling

  • Hyperactivity

  • Hyperirritability

  • Rapid breathing

  • Muscle twitching or tremors

  • Abdominal tenderness

  • Restlessness

  • Frequent urination and or urinary incontinence 

These can progress to more severe symptoms including:

  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)

  • Ataxia (wobbly gait)

  • Elevated temperature

  • Seizures

  • Coma

  • Death

How is chocolate poisoning diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you including the type and amount of chocolate consumed.

Diagnosis is based on history of exposure, physical symptoms, chemical detection of alkaloids in the stomach contents, blood serum or urine profiles.

Where possible, bring along a sample of your cat's vomit for your veterinarian to have a look at. This can assist with diagnosis.

How is theobromine poisoning treated?

There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning in cats. Treatment is aimed at removing the chocolate from the stomach if possible, or preventing further absorption. Unfortunately theobromine is reabsorbed through the urinary bladder, so treatment may need to be continued for up to 24 hours to ensure thorough removal. Treatment will include:

  • If ingestion of chocolate has been within 2 hours, your veterinarian administer a medication to induce vomiting.

  • Administer activated charcoal to prevent any further amounts of theobromine being absorbed.

  • Intubation and artificial ventilation if your cat is having difficulty breathing.

  • Intravenous fluids will be given to treat dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea and to assist in flushing out the toxins by increasing urine production.

  • Medications to control tremors and seizures.

  • A urinary catheter may be placed to prevent

  • Cardiac monitoring (ECG).

  • If the heart rate is elevated, medications to slow it down such as beta-blockers may be prescribed.

What about cat chocolate?

It is possible to get safe chocolate specifically for cats. I personally am not a fan of the idea. Cats can't discriminate between cat chocolate and normal chocolate so I would rather avoid giving a cat any kind of chocolate. There are lots of other safe treats if we want to spoil our cats. The following article has a number of foods which are safe for cats. Human foods cats can eat.

Related content:

Human foods toxic to cats

 

Last updated 23rd December 2016.