Cats will always be intrigued by the prospect of eating human food. Unfortunately, chocolate should never be fed to cats.
Any type of chocolate will make a cat sick. The darker the chocolate, the more cacao it contains. Cacao contains an alkaloid called theobromine. Theobromine is toxic, and potentially lethal, to cats.
It’s rare for a cat to have a sweet tooth, but your cat may be curious about why you value chocolate so highly. Don’t be tempted to give in to your cat’s demands, and never leave any chocolate in a place your cat can reach.
Can Cats Eat Chocolate?
Chocolate is toxic to cats. This toxicity is caused by theobromine (xantheose). Theobromine is an alkaloid found in the cacao plant. As a result, all forms of chocolate contain theobromine.
The Journal of Small Animal Practice explains that theobromine causes cardiovascular and nervous system failure. The toxicity remains in a cat’s body for as long as 24 hours.
The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to cats. This is due to the higher cacao content. Chocolate milk is low in theobromine, but still inappropriate. Most cats are lactose intolerant.
White chocolate only contains traces of theobromine. This makes it less harmful than other forms. Traces of any poison remain enough to pose a health risk, though.
In ascending order, the most dangerous forms of chocolate are:
- Chocolate-flavored milk or ice cream
- White chocolate
- Milk chocolate
- Dark chocolate
- Baking chocolate
- Cacao powder
What Are the Alternatives to Chocolate?
It is clear that a cat should never be given chocolate. This will not concern most cats. Sweet foods are of little interest to a cat’s palate. There are exceptions, though, as a cat may be attracted by the strong smell of cacao.
If your cat has a taste for chocolate, keep it out of the house. Instead, use carob-based alternatives. Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) is a plant that is non-toxic to cats. The taste is similar to chocolate.
What If My Cat Ate Chocolate?
If your cat ate chocolate, you must determine how much and which type. Chocolate has varying levels of toxicity.
Toxicity of the Type of Chocolate Ingested
The exact amount of chocolate that causes toxicity in cats remains unknown. This table provides a guide:
|Chocolate Type||Amount Consumed||Toxicity Risk|
|20 – 80g||Severe||Severe|
As a guide to the size of chocolate that your cat may have consumed:
- A teaspoon of cacao powder = 3g
- Piece of chocolate from a gift box = 5g
- Standard bar of chocolate from a candy store = 45g
- Share a bag of chocolate = 120g
- Chocolate cake = 400g
Moderate toxicity still leaves your cat in danger. Never take a wait and see approach to theobromine poisoning. Your cat must be seen by a veterinarian, if only as a precaution.
Symptoms of Theobromine Poisoning
Toxicity in cats has unmistakable symptoms. These include:
- Wide, dilated pupils
- Restlessness and agitation
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Increased heart rate
- Low body temperature
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle twitches
- Lack of coordination
- Pale and discolored gums
These symptoms point to a medical emergency. Make an urgent appointment with a vet. The faster you act, the better your cat’s prognosis will be.
Treatment for Theobromine Poisoning
Treating theobromine poisoning is complicated. There is no single antidote. A vet will treat each of the symptoms in turn. Treatments include:
- Induced vomiting
- Consumption of activated charcoal
- Intravenous fluids
- Urinary catheterization
- Seizure control
- Surgical removal of toxins
If you react fast enough, many of these treatments may be unnecessary. Upon arrival, a vet will make your cat as comfortable possible. If necessary, breathing apparatus will be supplied.
Tests will then be run to determine the extent of the toxicity. Provide as much information as you can about your cat’s chocolate consumption. This includes how much chocolate was eaten, when this occurred, and how your cat has acted since.
1/ Induced Vomiting
If your cat recently ate chocolate, it may not yet be digested. Induced vomiting can flush the chocolate from your cat’s body. Your cat may already have vomited as a side effect of toxicity.
Induced vomiting should be managed by a vet. In urgent cases, it can be conducted at home. Inducted vomiting is not a substitute for treatment. It can be a good first step though. To induce vomiting in a cat:
- Mix a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 97% water
- Feed the cat one teaspoon of the solution
- If the cat does not vomit within ten minutes, repeat this step
Once your cat vomits, maintain a sample. A vet will find this helpful. Tests will be run to determine the severity of theobromine poisoning.
2/ Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is typically made from coal or wood. When burned at high temperatures, these materials react to gas and expand. The charcoal is then ground to powder and administered to the cat.
Activated charcoal binds toxins. This prevents the theobromine from moving further into the body. The charcoal will eventually be passed through the digestive tract.
Cats are difficult to treat with activated charcoal. The powder is unpalatable, and many cats will refuse to consume it willingly. A nasogastric tube will usually be required.
Once the cat has been provided with activated charcoal, it will remain in surgery for observation. This is to ensure the cat accepts the remedy and keeps it down. Activate charcoal will only work if it remains in the body.
3/ Intravenous Fluids
A cat exposed to toxins will invariably require intravenous fluids. These serve multiple purposes:
- Replacing fluid lost through vomiting or diarrhea
- Restoring fluids to organs damaged by toxicity
- Reducing blood pressure by hydrating the heart
- Flushing toxins from the cat’s body through urine
If a cat requires IV fluids, it will likely need to stay overnight at the surgery. Observation will be key. The cat’s fluid intake will need to be monitored and periodically adjusted.
If intravenous fluids are not required, you must still watch your cat carefully. Ensure that it drinks water regularly. Dehydration is an ever-present risk in healthy cats. A cat that experiences toxicity will already be weakened.
In cases of mild toxicity, a vet may prescribe laxatives. The intention here is to accelerate the digestive process of the chocolate.
If you wish to use natural laxatives at home, offer your cat tinned pumpkin. This will ensure rapid bowel movements.
Do not use laxatives if the cat endures naturally occurring diarrhea through toxicity. This leaves the cat at risk of dehydration.
Consuming toxins will impact upon a cat’s heart. An elevated heart rate is likely. Some cats also experience cardiomyopathy when consuming toxins. These concerns must be managed as a priority.
Many vets treat heart issues related to toxicity with beta-blockers. Veterinary Clinics of North America namechecks Propranolol as the drug of choice.
The long-term impact of these drugs is currently unknown. In a toxicity emergency, a decision must be made quickly. The short-term benefits of beta-blockers dictate that their use will typically be authorized.
6/ Urinary Catheterization
Urinary catheters are usually used to treat a blockage in a cat’s urethra. They can also be utilized in cases of toxicity.
Fitting a catheter means that toxins can be flushed through urine. The catheter can also prevent these toxins from being reabsorbed.
A catheter will not resolve toxicity alone. Used alongside other, more aggressive treatments, urinary catheterization can be impactful.
7/ Seizure Control
If a cat consumes chocolate, theobromine attacks the nervous system. This can cause muscle tremors and fever. These symptoms will lead to seizures.
Seizures are among the most concerning symptoms of toxicity. These tremors must be controlled. Left untreated, seizures can cause muscular problems, nerve damage, and death.
Seizures are treated with medication. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association explains that Levetiracetam is commonly prescribed. This drug is used to control epilepsy in cats and humans alike.
Levetiracetam is well tolerated in cats, with only minor side effects. The cat will require 500mg of the drug daily after discharge for the toxicity. This could be one large dosage or three smaller measures.
If theobromine cannot be flushed using fluids or vomiting, it may need to be removed manually. Scans will be arranged to determine if the chocolate remains in the body. If so, the cat will undergo surgery to manually remove the toxic item.
Surgery is a last resort when dealing with toxicity. It may be the only choice when dealing with poisoning. Not all cats will be eligible for surgery.
If internal organs are damaged by toxicity, surgery may be considered too risky. Senior cats also struggle with an anaesthetic. Often, if surgery is required, the damage of chocolate consumption has already been done.