Can Cats Eat Chocolate?

Assortment of fine chocolate candies. Top view
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Any pet lover knows the golden puppy rule when it comes to chocolate: Dogs can NOT eat chocolate! An absolute favorite among people, chocolate is toxic to dogs and a well-known hazard. But what about cats? Do we need to be concerned when our cats sneak a bit of chocolate?

Can cats eat chocolate?

Unfortunately, just like our pup pals, cats cannot eat chocolate. Chocolate includes theobromine and caffeine, both of which are methylxanthines and can be extremely harmful to cats. Theobromine and caffeine are absorbed from the GI tract and widely distributed throughout your cat's body, according the Merck Veterinary Manual. Chocolate toxicosis (poisoning) can result in potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias.

Because cats don't get into human food as much as dogs do, chocolate poisoning is more rare in our feline friends, but it's still just as dangerous. A cat's digestive system is unable to properly break down theobromine and if large amounts are ingested, the stimulant will affect the central nervous and cardiac systems. Yikes!

Different types of chocolate, different types of danger.

Although your cat should not be eating any kind of chocolate whatsoever, you want to really make sure he stays away from dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, in fact, the more toxic it is to your cat. Baking chocolate is considered the most dangerous with the highest level of theobromine. Here are where the chocolates rank from most to least dangerous, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual (milligrams of theobromine per ounce of chocolate):

  • Dry cocoa powder 800 mg
  • Unsweetened baker's chocolate 450 mg
  • Semisweet chocolate 150-160 mg
  • Dark chocolate 150-160 mg
  • White chocolate: insignificant source

How much is too much?

Small amounts of chocolate, like a Hershey's Kiss, will most likely not be life threatening to your cat, but it is still toxic. If too much is ingested, the results can be fatal. The lethal dose for felines is considered to be 200 milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of the cat's body weight.

Kitten sitting waiting for food looking back
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Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning

If your cat has ingested too much chocolate, watch for the following symptoms and consult a veterinarian immediately:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Diarrhea
  • Death
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive panting
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle twitching
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting

What to do if your cat eats chocolate.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat ingests chocolate. Time is crucial even if your cat does not show immediate symptoms of chocolate poisoning. Symptoms can take several hours to arise but will progress rapidly once they begin.

Your vet may walk you through the steps of inducing vomiting or they may do it themselves when the cat is brought into their facility. If too much time has passed and the chocolate is in the system already, the veterinarian may give your cat activated charcoal. This will bind the chocolate and limit the stomach and intestine's ability to absorb the harmful ingredients.

Cats brought to the veterinarian after ingesting chocolate may have to be admitted for continued observation after the initial treatment.

Melted chocolate background / melting chocolate/ chocolate background / chocolate bar
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Conclusion

Like dogs, cats cannot eat chocolate. Chocolate contains theobromine, an enzyme that is known to increase heart rates, decrease blood pressure and stimulate the nervous system. A cat's body can't properly break down and process theobromine. Darker chocolates contain higher levels of theobromine and are more dangerous for cats, but cats should avoid all types, even white chocolate .

Chocolate is potentially lethal for cats. There are no guarantees of how much chocolate your specific cat can handle so prevention is key! Keep chocolate and products containing chocolate in cupboards or on shelves your cat can't reach. If you have (human) children in the home, make sure they too don't leave their chocolate treats laying around the house for pets to get their paws on. Again, the best treatment for chocolate poisoning is prevention!