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Chocolate Poisoning in Cats

Can I Give My Cat Chocolate?

chocolate poisoning in catsThe short answer is no. Chocolate contains naturally occurring methylxanthines known as theobromine. The concentration of theobromine which is toxic to cats (and dogs).

Dogs are generally more susceptible than cats, no doubt because they are more likely to consume large quantities of chocolate, whereas cats are generally more finicky eaters.

Different kinds of chocolate contain different levels. 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.

Dry cocoa powder 800 mg per oz/28g
Baking chocolate 450 mg per oz/28g
Semi-sweet/dark chocolate 150-160 mg per oz/28g
Milk chocolate 64 mg per oz/28g
White chocolate Insignificant

The lethal dose of theobromine poisoning is 100-200mg per kg.

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.

What does theobromine do?

  • 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), and the quantity consumed. If enough is ingested, death can occur. 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
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent urination and or urinary incontinence 

These can progress to more severe symptoms including:

  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Muscle tremors
  • Ataxia
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

How is theobromine poisoning diagnosed?

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

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 it treated?

Depending on the severity of the poisoning, your veterinarian will control clinical signs. There is no antidote for theobromine poisoning. Treatment may include:

  • If ingestion of chocolate has been within 2 hours, your veterinarian may induce vomiting in the cat.
  • Administer activated charcoal to prevent any further amounts of theobromine being absorbed.
  • Intubation and artificial ventilation.
  • Medications to control tremors and seizures.
  • Cardiac monitoring (ECG).

Also see:

Human Foods Toxic to Cats   Human Foods Cats Can Eat