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Can Cats Eat Chocolate?—By Dr. Leslie Brooks

Illustration of a chocolate bar to explain why chocolate is not good for cats

There are many human foods that are toxic to cats. Chocolate is definitely one of them.

You may be wondering why chocolate is perfectly fine for people to eat, but harmful for cats to eat. The simple answer is that cats are much smaller than people and their bodies do not metabolize certain chemicals the same way people’s bodies do.

Chocolate contains certain ingredients that cause toxicity in cats. Thankfully, cats tend to be pretty discriminate eaters and do not get into chocolate or chocolate-containing foods as much as dogs do.

That being said, some cats will try to eat chocolate and any amount can cause them harm.

In this article, we will discuss the reasons why you should keep chocolate out of reach of your cat.

There are many human foods that are toxic to cats. Chocolate is definitely one of them. You may be wondering why chocolate is perfectly fine for people to eat, but harmful for cats to eat.

The simple answer is that cats are much smaller than people and their bodies do not metabolize certain chemicals the same way people’s bodies do. Chocolate contains certain ingredients that cause toxicity in cats.

Thankfully, cats tend to be pretty discriminate eaters and do not get into chocolate or chocolate-containing foods as much as dogs do. That being said, some cats will try to eat chocolate and any amount can cause them harm.

In this article, we will discuss the reasons why you should keep chocolate out of reach of your cat.

The Toxic Part of Chocolate

There are two main chemicals in chocolate that are toxic to cats- theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine are what we refer to as “stimulants”. They cause increased stimulation in the central nervous system and excitement in the cells of muscles, including the heart muscle, within the body.

Cats are much, much smaller than us humans, so the amounts of theobromine and caffeine that are in foods we eat are in too high of quantities for cats.

Theobromine is not the only reason to avoid letting your cat eat chocolate, though. The fat and sugar in chocolate can cause severe inflammation in your cat’s pancreas, leading to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can cause vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite.

For some cats, this in and of itself can be a life-threatening situation. If cats, especially overweight cats, do not eat for even just a couple of days, their body will start to mobilize all of their fat stores.

This can quickly overwhelm their liver, leading to a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis or “Fatty Liver Syndrome”. Many cats do not recover from this. For those that do, they usually have to be fed food through a feeding tube for a few weeks while they recover.

Signs of Chocolate Toxicity

The degree of toxicity will oftentimes depend on the amount and type of chocolate eaten. Regardless, every cat is different and some may be more sensitive to the effects than others.  

Signs of chocolate toxicity in cats include one or more of the following:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • excessive thirst
  • hyperactivity
  • pacing and restlessness
  • shaking
  • muscle tremors and twitching
  • irregular and fast heart beat
  • high blood pressure
  • seizures
  • sudden death in severe cases

The severity of these signs will depend upon how much chocolate is eaten and what kind of chocolate was eaten. This is because different varieties of chocolate contain different concentrations of theobromine.

All Chocolate Isn’t Created Equal

Different types of chocolate tend to contain different levels of theobromine, the substance that causes toxicity in cats. Dark chocolate has higher concentrations of theobromine than milk chocolate does, so your cat can get sick from eating smaller amounts of dark chocolate than milk chocolate.

The following chart will help break it down.

There is a neat Chocolate Toxicity Calculator available at this website.

What to Do If Your Cat Eats Chocolate

 Take your Cat into the Vet

If your cat ingests chocolate, of any amount, you should immediately call your vet and let them know you are bringing your cat into the clinic. If it is after normal business hours, take your cat to the nearest emergency clinic.

If it has been less than 1 hour since your cat ingested the chocolate, the vet can attempt to induce vomiting. This is the best way to decrease the risk of your cat absorbing the chocolate into their bloodstream.

The safest way to induce vomiting in your cat is at the vet’s office. Your vet has a medication they can give to your cat that will cause them to become nauseous and vomit. Attempting to do this at home could cause more problems for your cat.

If your cat vomits up the majority or all of the chocolate, they should be in the safe zone. Your vet may give your cat some fluids underneath the skin to absorb throughout the rest of the day. This will help with hydration and help to get things moving through their system.

If your cat is already showing symptoms of chocolate toxicity, your cat will need to be hospitalized and put on intravenous (IV) fluids for at least 2-3 days. This is because it takes about 4 days for theobromine to fully get out of your cat’s system.

Being in the hospital, the vet staff can also safely monitor your cat’s heart rate and blood pressure. If something goes awry they can administer the proper medications to ensure your cat’s survival.

Call the Animal Poison Control Center

Something else you can do if your cat eats chocolate is to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at the following number:

888-426-4435

They will want to know the weight of your cat, the type of chocolate they ate, and how much of the chocolate was eaten. They can then let you know if you should just monitor your cat or immediately take your cat into the vet and what steps the vet should take to ensure the best outcomes for your kitty.

The good news is that cats are typically pretty discriminate eaters. The ASPCA even states that they do not get too many calls regarding cats that have eaten chocolate.

FAQ

Why is chocolate toxic to cats?

Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which can cause cats’ bodies to become overstimulated, with an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and increased central nervous system excitement.

Are all types of chocolate toxic?

Any types of chocolate can cause your cat to get sick. However, baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate are more toxic to your cat than milk chocolate and white chocolate.

If my cats eat some chocolate can I just wait and see if they get sick?

The best thing to do is call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 to find out how at risk your cat is of toxicity. It is also always best to call your vet and take them in immediately so they can try to get your cat to vomit to get the chocolate out of their system.

My cat ate chocolate more than 1 hour ago and is now acting out of sorts. Should I try to get them to vomit?

No. If it has been more than 1 hour since your cat ingested chocolate, making them vomit will likely not get any chocolate out of their stomach. Also, if your cat is already showing neurologic or any other signs of chocolate toxicity, do NOT make them vomit, as that could cause them to aspirate and lead to pneumonia.

Conclusion

Chocolate is toxic to cats. It even has the potential of causing death. Try as best as you can to keep chocolate products or any foods with chocolate in them out of reach of your cat at all times. Thankfully, cats do not tend to get into chocolate as often as dogs do, but it is still important to keep it out of their reach.