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Is Chocolate Bad for Cats?

It’s widely known that chocolate is toxic for dogs, but what about cats? Chocolate is as harmful for cats as it is for dogs, and their ability to reach high surfaces can even make cats more vulnerable to accessing chocolate. That slice of chocolate cake or bowl of M&Ms on the counter can quickly become dangerous if your cat decides to help itself to a snack. Let’s discuss why chocolate is toxic for cats, the symptoms of chocolate poisoning in cats, and what to do if your cat eats chocolate.

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Why is chocolate bad for cats?

There are several reasons why chocolate should never be shared with cats, starting with two of its main toxic compounds — theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine are naturally occurring stimulants in the cacao plant, from which chocolate is derived. These compounds are toxic for cats (and dogs), as they don’t metabolize them like humans, leading to dangerous and fatal side effects.

In addition to the risk of caffeine and theobromine poisoning in cats, chocolate can also contain other harmful ingredients. Common ingredients in chocolate, such as milk, sugar, and artificial flavorings or sweeteners, can cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Types of chocolate and their toxicity for cats

While all chocolate should be considered off-limits for cats (and dogs), some types have higher levels of theobromine than others, making them even more dangerous. As a general rule, the higher the percentage of cacao or cocoa in the chocolate, the higher the amount of theobromine.

  • Baking chocolate has the highest level of theobromine, around 376 mg per oz, making it one of the most harmful for cats.
  • Dark chocolate is also among the highly toxic types of chocolate for cats. Theobromine levels can range from around 179 mg per oz for 60% to 69% cacao to around 228 mg per oz for 70% to 85% cacao.
  • Cocoa powder is highly toxic to cats, with around 142 mg of theobromine per tbsp.
  • Semisweet chocolate chips are very toxic to cats with around 138 mg of theobromine per oz.
  • Milk chocolate is often the least toxic to cats, with under 60 mg of theobromine per oz, but it can still cause dangerous side effects, especially if a large amount is eaten.
  • White chocolate is typically not considered toxic to cats, as it may only contain trace amounts of theobromine from cocoa butter; it does not contain cocoa solids. However, this doesn’t mean it’s safe to share. White chocolate can have large amounts of fat, sugar, and dairy, which can cause gastrointestinal upset.

While some chocolates may have lower theobromine levels than others, it’s important to note that cats have no safe amount of chocolate. As little as a bite of a brownie, a few chocolate chips, or a square of a chocolate bar can have profound effects. Anytime a cat gets into chocolate, regardless of the type or amount — take note of what was ingested and seek veterinary advice immediately.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in cats

The effects of chocolate poisoning in cats usually start to take effect within a few hours of ingestion and can include symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Heavy or open-mouth breathing
  • Uncoordinated movements or trouble walking
  • Seizures/tremors

A cat’s condition can become more severe as time passes, so if your cat only shows mild symptoms initially, this doesn't mean you’ve dodged a trip to the vet. What may begin as mild gastrointestinal upset can progress to severe neurological and cardiac symptoms if action is not taken.

Taking action: what to do if your cat eats chocolate

If your cat ate chocolate, of any type or in any amount, it’s imperative to contact your vet or pet poison control right away.

  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) 888-426-4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661

Be advised, there are fees for these services.

Take note of what type of chocolate your cat ate (save the package, if possible), how much they ate, how long ago they ate it, and your cat’s approximate weight. These crucial details will help your veterinarian or the consulting veterinary toxicologist best advise on the next steps, which might include bringing your cat to a veterinary hospital for treatment.

What’s the treatment for chocolate poisoning in cats?

Treatment for chocolate poisoning in cats will depend on several factors, including the type and amount of chocolate your cat ate, the approximate time of ingestion, and your cat’s presenting symptoms. If indicated, your vet may induce vomiting to remove the chocolate or use activated charcoal to help reduce toxin absorption from the chocolate in your cat’s system. Both of these treatments should only be done by a veterinarian. Never try to induce vomiting or give activated charcoal at home.

Your veterinarian may also recommend running some diagnostic tests, doing lab work to check your cat’s organ function, and providing supportive care to manage symptoms. Supportive veterinary care for cats with chocolate toxicosis might include fluid therapy, vital monitoring, and drugs to manage arrhythmias, seizures, or other side effects.

With early diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis for chocolate toxicosis in cats is typically good. Cats receiving delayed treatment can still have good outcomes but may require more intensive treatments and longer hospitalizations.

Final pet safety tips: keeping your cat safe from chocolate

Chocolate and other toxic foods for cats should be kept out of reach to prevent problems. Since cats have a bit more flexibility than dogs when it comes to stealing food, pet-proof containers and cabinet locks can be among the best tools in cat poisoning prevention. It’s also important to use caution when serving dessert at the table or leaving freshly baked goods on the counter to cool. Curious kitties can quickly help themselves to a taste if left unsupervised.

While we can take all the precautions, cats will be cats and may sometimes get into things they shouldn’t, so it’s best to always be prepared. Learning the signs of poisoning and keeping the numbers to pet poison control handy can help you be prepared in the event of a chocolate poisoning or other situation where you may need cat emergency care or advice. Lastly, if your cat is a known snack bandit or frequent counter-surfer, consider a pet insurance plan that covers accidental poisonings.


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