Although it's more common to hear stories of dogs getting sick from chocolate ingestion, chocolate can also pose a serious health risk to cats, even becoming fatal if too much is eaten.
Why Is Chocolate Bad for Cats?
Although sugar, fat, and xylitol (a sugar substitute) aren't good for cats either, chocolate contains two ingredients that pose a threat to an animal's health: caffeine and theobromine, a plant alkaloid that occurs naturally in cacao. Theobromine in particular is a proven toxin for most animals, including cats, as noted in a study published by the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.
The Latin name for the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao, meaning "food for the gods," and the roasted beans do make a yummy treat, but what makes chocolate so delightful for humans is exactly what makes it so dangerous for pets.
Why Are These Ingredients so Dangerous for Animals?
The two main culprits, chocolate and theobromine, are stimulants. Caffeine, found in many food and drink items besides chocolate, becomes toxic when absorbed into your cat's body, leading to "vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, restlessness and an increased heart rate," explains Banfield Pet Hospital. Theobromine causes similar symptoms when ingested.
How Much Chocolate Is Too Much?
Any amount of chocolate is too much for your cat. All forms of chocolate are hazardous to your furry friend, such as dry cocoa powder and baking chocolate (most toxic due to their high level of theobromine), dark, semi-sweet, and milk chocolate, and even white chocolate, with its low percentage of cocoa.
However, the level of toxicity depends on how much she ingests and what kind. For a ten-pound cat, notes Petful, one small square of baking chocolate can do as much harm to your kitty as twenty-three wrapped chocolate drops. You should avoid letting your cat eat small amounts of chocolate, as any amount may cause illness.
Help — My Cat Ate Chocolate! What Symptoms Should I Watch For?
A few side effects are listed above, but you'll want to keep a close eye on her to see if she exhibits any of these symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Increased body temperature
- Rapid breathing or panting
- Muscle tremors or twitching
- Low blood pressure
As you would with any medical emergency, immediately bring your cat to the vet or animal emergency room to determine the extent of the poisoning and to receive treatment. After treatment, continue to monitor your cat for any other ill effects to ensure it is completely out of her system.
What Happens Next?
Remain as calm as possible because cats are very in-tune with their pet parents' emotions. Try to keep them cool, calm and in a quiet place to help keep the symptoms of chocolate poisoning from escalating.
The vet may ask you to induce vomiting to help prevent your cat from digesting the toxins. Once you arrive at the office, he or she will perform tests on your cat, including the administration of fluids for rehydration. Your cat's health and weight along with the type and amount of chocolate she ingested will determine which further tests and treatments are necessary.
How Do I Prevent This from Happening?
Chocolate ingestion is 100 percent preventable: keep chocolate out of paw's reach. Cats are curious, unpredictable creatures and love to snoop around the kitchen, so secure all chocolate in a tightly sealed container. Think of all the things that might contain chocolate including brownies, donuts, cookies, candies, etc., because it's not just the chocolate bars that can make her sick. This is especially true around holidays like Halloween. If you're entertaining, place candy dishes in places that are difficult for your cat to reach and store them immediately after the party. If a guest asks, "can cats eat chocolate?", you are now prepared to answer with a resounding "no."
Pet parents do like to reward their feline friends, and you can do so safely by sticking to safe cat treats, created to keep your cat happy and healthy. Then you get to keep the chocolate all to yourself!
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.