Updated - Sep 30th, 2021
While we humans are huge fans of chocolate, the same can’t be said about our cats, who are not into snacking on chocolate at all. The sugar and dairy in chocolate are not enticing to them, and they’re unlikely to try to eat it by themselves.
This is a very good thing, though, because chocolate is toxic for cats. If your cat eats chocolate, it can cause big health problems. It can even be life-threatening if they consume too much.
Let’s talk about all things chocolate and why it’s best not to give it to your cat.
Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate has a rich history dating back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations in Latin America were the first to discover the Theobroma cacao tree and turn its seeds into a delicious, drinkable liquid.
Today, we ferment, roast, and dry cacao, then grind it into a thick liquid called cocoa mass. This mass is mixed with other ingredients – like cocoa butter and sugar – to create the modern chocolate bar.
From bitter dark chocolate to smooth milk chocolate, this sweet indulgence is delicious and perfectly safe for humans to eat. But this isn’t the case for our cats.
Cats can’t eat chocolate because it contains toxic ingredients that can lead to chocolate poisoning. For this reason, it’s important to be cautious when your cat is around anything containing chocolate – and to take immediate action if you suspect your cat has ingested any.
Why can’t cats eat chocolate like humans can?
Chocolate is toxic for cats because it contains two harmful ingredients: caffeine and theobromine. A cat’s small body cannot absorb and process these chemicals in the same way that human bodies can.
Caffeine is a strong stimulant that’s also found in coffee and energy drinks. It stimulates our brain’s activity and our central nervous system. Human bodies can handle the jolt of caffeine from one too many cups of coffee, but cats will struggle with even a small amount. Caffeine can negatively impact your cat’s nervous system and their heart rate. It can also damage major organs, like their liver and kidneys.
Theobromine is potentially lethal for our cats. Cats can’t absorb theobromine and pass it through their system as quickly as humans do. It affects their nervous system as well as their cardiovascular and respiratory systems. It also has a diuretic effect – meaning it increases the loss of water and salt in the body – and can quickly bring on theobromine poisoning. This can result in vomiting, restlessness, and diarrhea.
What types of chocolate are toxic for cats?
Almost all types of chocolate are toxic for cats. The least toxic type is white chocolate, but this still poses a health risk because of its high sugar and butter content. The most toxic types of chocolate for cats are cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and dark chocolate. These types contain the highest amount of theobromine – even tiny amounts of these chocolates can be bad for your cat.
This means it’s a huge no-no to give your cat a taste of any desserts containing these types of chocolate, including cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, puddings, ice creams, breakfast bars, brownies, and pastries.
Pet Pro Tip: If you have a dog that is prone to ‘snacksidents’ – you should consider getting a dog insurance plan as soon as possible. It can help you afford the best care in the future by covering eligible vet bills for digestive illnesses, toxic ingestion, and more.
Is there any amount of chocolate that’s safe for cats? Not really.
Chocolate poisoning in cats is less common than chocolate poisoning in dogs because cats likely won’t seek out chocolate to eat. But there’s a chance they can mistakenly be given it as a treat or eat it accidentally in other types of food. Since the risk of poisoning is high, it’s best for your cat’s health if you keep them away from all chocolate.
The seriousness of chocolate poisoning in cats depends on the amount consumed relative to your cat’s body weight. The smaller your cat, the smaller the amount of chocolate it takes to bring on negative health effects.
If your cat licks a chocolate ice cream scoop or eats one semi-sweet chocolate morsel, they should be okay. It’s still wise to be extra careful, though. While a chocolate chip may be nothing to one large cat, it could seriously impact the health of another. There’s no way of knowing for sure how it will affect them, so it’s best to be on the safe side.
Keep cats away from the kitchen when baking with chocolate, and let anyone who comes into contact with your cat (especially children with treats) know that chocolate is on the forbidden list. Keep your chocolate stash in a safe, unreachable place and take care when chocolate items are out and about on tables and counters.
What happens if my cat gets chocolate poisoning?
If your cat gets chocolate poisoning and you observe symptoms, you need to act quickly. Here are the symptoms to look out for:
- Dehydration (excessive thirst)
- Frequent urination
- Loss of appetite
- Restlessness or hyperactivity
- Higher than usual heart rate
- Muscle tremors
Remember, your cat absorbs theobromine slowly, so symptoms may not show up right away – they may appear at any time between 2 and 24 hours after ingestion.
What should I do if my cat eats chocolate?
If you know or suspect your cat has ingested chocolate, seek help immediately! Take them to your nearest veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital, or call ASPCA animal poison control (which is open 24/7). They can help you determine what you need to do next. If your cat has ingested a toxic amount, they’ll need treatment as soon as possible. The faster you can act, the more positive their health outcome is likely to be.
How is chocolate poisoning treated?
Treatment will depend on the amount of chocolate your cat has ingested and how much time has passed since ingestion. A veterinarian may try to help by inducing vomiting, which is very difficult for cats. (It’s not advised that you ever try to do this yourself.) Your vet will induce vomiting to help get as much chocolate as possible out of your cat’s system.
In serious cases, a veterinarian may administer intravenous (IV) fluid therapy to deliver medication directly into your cat’s bloodstream to keep them hydrated and dilute toxins. Your cat will need to be kept on a bland, plain diet after treatment and watched closely for several days.
At Pumpkin, we know just how scary an incident like this can be. If your cat mistakenly chomps on some chocolate, the last thing you want to be worrying about is the veterinary bill for any treatment they need. That’s why we provide best-in-show pet insurance plans, so you have help saying ‘yes’ to the emergency care your cat needs to get back on their paws.*
What kind of treats can I give my cat safely?
Pet stores sell a variety of treats that are great options for satisfying your cat safely. No matter where you get them, it’s always best to check the ingredients list on any treat and ask your veterinarian for advice if you are unsure.
Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite safe cat snacks and treats:
- Cheese (in moderation)
- Pureed pumpkin
- Skinless apples
- Fruitables Crunchy Cat Treats
- Temptations MixUps Crunchy & Soft Treats
- Feline Greenies Natural Dental Care Treats
Final thoughts on chocolate and cats
Ultimately, the best thing for your cat is to keep them away from chocolate. Any amount could be dangerous or potentially life-threatening. Be vigilant when chocolate is around, and be prepared to act quickly if you notice something’s not right with your cat. Happily, there are plenty of other purrfect treats out there that cats can safely enjoy!
*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company, a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details, visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information.
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