Cat owners commonly wonder about the toxicity of various human foods. The question about the safety of different foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic which yielded a lot of press coverage. The most important toxic foods are onions, garlic, chocolate, alcohol, and excessive amounts of fish.
Exposure to the dangers of various human foods has encouraged pet owners ask about the safety of foods such as can cats eat chocolate. Learn more about what cats can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Cats Can’t Eat.
Can Cats Eat Chocolate?
Chocolate, in addition to having a high fat content, contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic when ingested in sufficient amounts. The levels of caffeine and theobromine vary between different types of chocolate. For example, white chocolate has the lowest concentration of stimulants and baking chocolate or cacao beans have the highest concentration.
When researching the safety and danger of chocolate for cats, there are a couple different considerations. Cats are much more discriminating in their eating patterns than dogs making chocolate toxicity uncommon. However, every cat is different and some may ingest toxic amounts. Chocolate toxicity is most common in curious kittens over adult cats. Ingestion of enough chocolate with the toxic agent can cause severe illness in cats such as tremors, seizures, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or even death.
Toxic Amounts of Chocolate to Cats
The toxic level for chocolate in dogs is similar to those for cats. The toxic dose of
theobromine and caffeine for cats is approximately 100 to 200 milligrams per kilogram (45 to 90 milligrams per pound) of body weight. A 10-pound cat can be toxic with ingestion of 450 milligrams.
The toxicity of the different types of chocolate is as follows:
- White Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 45 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe toxicity occurs when 90 ounces per pound of body weight in ingested. This means that a 10-pound cat would need to ingest at least nearly 27 pounds of white chocolate to cause nervous system signs, which is impossible. Be aware that a much smaller amount of white chocolate may result in gastrointestinal problems.
- Milk Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when two ounces per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that a little less than 8 ounces milk chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 10-pound cat.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 1/3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when one ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that as little as three ounces of semi-sweet chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 10-pound cat.
- Baking Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.1 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 0.15 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. One small one-ounce square of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 10-pound cat. This type of chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine and very little needs to be ingested before signs of illness become apparent.
The answer to the question, “Can cats eat chocolate” – the answer is no. While a lick or two of milk chocolate is unlikely to cause a problem in a normal healthy cat, ingestion of small amounts of dark or baking chocolate can cause severe signs of toxicity.
Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity in Cats
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats will vary with amount and ingested and may include:
- Lethargy or restlessness
- Anorexia or decreased appetite
- Increased respiratory (breathing) rate
- Increase heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
Depending on the type of chocolate ingested and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. The high fat content in chocolate may result in vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Once toxic levels are eaten, the stimulant effect becomes apparent. You may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, tremors, increased urination and possibly increased respiratory rates. Heart rate and blood pressure levels may also be increased. Seizure activity may occur in severe cases.
These symptoms will vary based on the amount and type of chocolate that is ingested and can influence the severity of the condition. Varieties of chocolate that can be especially poisonous to cats are dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and baking chocolate.
What to Do if You Believe Your Cat Ate Chocolate
If you suspect your cat ingested chocolate, call your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic immediately. If your cat is symptomatic, see your vet as soon as possible. While on your way to the vet, keep your cat calm.
Most often the diagnosis of chocolate toxicity is based on your witnessing or suspecting ingestion and on physical exam findings. Cats that have ingested toxic levels of chocolate are generally hyperactive and have increased blood pressure and increased heart rates. Dehydration may also occur if there has been significant vomiting and diarrhea. Some cats will tremor and/or seizure.
Treatment depends on the severity of the clinical signs and may include continuous intravenous fluid therapy, medications to help control vomiting and sedatives to counteract the stimulant effects of chocolate. Occasionally medication to reduce heart rate and high blood pressure is indicated.
Most cats treated for chocolate toxicity recover and return to normal within 24-48 hours of treatment.
Do Cats Need Chocolate?
There is nothing in chocolate that cats require. What cats do need is a high quality AAFCO approved cat food. Learn more about Nutrition in Cats.
The Safest Way to Give Chocolate to Cats
If you are tempted to give your cat chocolate, don’t. A small lick of milk chocolate is unlikely to harm your cat but your cat doesn’t need it.