It’s pretty well known that dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate, but is chocolate bad for cats too?
Turns out it’s just as dangerous for cats as it is for dogs — and since chocolate is definitely poisonous to cats, if your cat eats some chocolate, you should take him to the vet ASAP.
Why is chocolate bad for cats?
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both toxic to cats. Cats are much more sensitive to both substances than humans are, and they metabolize theobromine more slowly, which means it stays in their system longer and makes even a small amount of chocolate poisonous.
“Theobromine, the toxic compound in chocolate, causes abnormal heart rhythms and dysfunction of the nervous system, resulting in weakness, incoordination and collapse in severe cases,” Dr. Wooten told The Dodo.
Caffeine causes similar effects in cats as it does in people, but because cats are more sensitive to it, the effects are heightened. Symptoms of caffeine toxicity in cats include hyperactivity, increased heart rate, agitation, panting and vomiting.
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats
In addition to the symptoms caused by theobromine and caffeine, there are some other issues with chocolate that cause poisoning in cats, too.
“Chocolate also causes inflammation and irritation in the gastrointestinal system due to the high fat content, which can result in vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite,” Dr. Wooten said. “Ingestion of chocolate can also cause pancreatitis, which is severe inflammation of the pancreas that can be life-threatening.”
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats to look out for include:
- Lack of coordination
- Hyperactivity or excessive agitation
- Dilated pupils
- Drinking and urinating more than usual
- Increased heart rate
- Tremors or seizures
- Pale, white or grey gums
Some symptoms, such as digestive problems, can begin to show up within 30 minutes to one hour of eating chocolate.
“Other signs can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to show up, depending on the speed of a cat’s metabolism,” Dr. Wooten said.
How much chocolate is poisonous to cats?
Pretty much any amount of chocolate is toxic to cats, but typically the more chocolate your cat eats, the more toxic it’s considered to be. There are also some kinds of chocolate that are more dangerous than others.
“The toxicity of chocolate depends on the size of the cat, what type of chocolate was consumed and how much they ate,” Dr. Wooten said. “All chocolate is toxic to cats; however, in terms of toxicity, chocolate is rated from the least toxic to most toxic in the following way: white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and the most toxic award goes to baking chocolate.”
White chocolate is less toxic because it doesn’t have caffeine and has less theobromine, but you still shouldn’t let your cat eat it. The most toxic chocolates, dark chocolate and baking chocolate, contain a lot of caffeine and theobromine because they have a higher concentration of cocoa.
You can also use this cat chocolate toxicity calculator to find out if the amount your cat ate is considered to be toxic (but to be safe, it’s probably best to take your cat to the vet if he ate any amount of chocolate, even if it was a tiny amount).
What to do if your cat ate chocolate
If your cat ate chocolate, take him to the vet right away — don’t wait until you see symptoms, since they can sometimes take a few hours to show up.
“Diagnosis of chocolate toxicity depends on an oral history from you (so make sure to bring any bits of what you think your cat ate), physical examination and laboratory findings,” Dr. Wooten said. “Your vet will likely take blood and urine samples and may even order an X-ray or an abdominal ultrasound in some cases.”
Bring as much information with you to the vet as you can, as this will help them treat your cat. Treatment will depend on a few things: the amount of chocolate your cat ate, how long it’s been since he ate the chocolate and the severity of his symptoms, Dr. Wooten said.
It’s helpful to tell your vet:
- When your cat ate the chocolate
- What type of chocolate your cat ate (milk, white, dark or baking chocolate — it’s especially helpful to bring any wrappers you have)
- How much chocolate your cat ate
- Any symptoms you’ve noticed
“If the cat just ate the chocolate, then your veterinarian may administer medication to make the cat bring up (vomit) any chocolate left in the stomach, administer activated charcoal to absorb any toxins left in the GI tract and then monitor for any clinical signs,” Dr. Wooten said. “In some cases, the cat may be sedated and a tube placed down the stomach to remove chocolate from the stomach.”
If your cat ate the chocolate a few hours ago or is already showing symptoms, your vet will likely need to provide some additional treatment.
“If a cat is already showing signs, then the cat will likely need hospitalization with supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, body temperature control, medication to control seizures and medication and/or monitoring for any heart abnormalities,” Dr. Wooten said.
So if you think your cat ate chocolate, take him to the vet ASAP — don’t wait until you see symptoms. And be sure to keep any chocolate far away from your cat!