Why Is Chocolate Poisonous to Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on October 27, 2016
Chocolate

Why Is Chocolate Poisonous to Cats

Most people know that chocolate is toxic for dogs, but how safe is cocoa for cats? The short answer: It isn’t. Chocolate is actually far more toxic to cats than dogs, but since cats aren’t as likely to get into human food as dogs, chocolate poisoning is less common, and less discussed. Here is what every cat owner should know about the toxicity of chocolate.

The cacao plant, from which chocolate is made, contains caffeine and a compound called theobromine. Despite its name, it contains no bromine. It is an alkaloid, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in plants. Theobromine’s chemical formula seems innocuous enough: seven carbon atoms, eight hydrogen atoms, four nitrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms, but it is a ticking time bomb in a cat’s system.

Theobromine impacts the body in several ways:

  • Increases heart rate
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Acts as a diuretic that increases loss of fluid
  • Stimulates the nervous system
  • Relaxes smooth muscles

The human body can metabolize theobromine but felines cannot, which is why people can enjoy chocolate without suffering dire consequences. The compound can stay in a cat’s bloodstream for nearly 24 hours after ingesting chocolate and because the body cannot clear it out, the poisonous accumulation leads to illness and in some cases, causes death.

Different Levels of Chocolate Toxicity

The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to a cat. The lethal dose for felines is considered to be 200 milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of body weight. Different types of chocolate contain different levels theobromine. The more cacao in the variety, the more poisonous the chocolate. This guide shows how much theobromine is present in different types of chocolate.

Product: Concentration (mg of theobromine/ounce):
Cacao beans 300-1500
Cacao powder 400-737
Unsweetened baking chocolate 390-450
Dark semisweet chocolate 135
Milk chocolate 44-60
White chocolate 0.25
Cacao bean hulls 150-255
Cacao bean mulch 56-900

Symptoms Of Chocolate Poisoning In Cats

There are a variety of symptoms that can indicate a feline has ingested too much chocolate. Some of those symptoms are minor, others are quite dangerous. If a cat has eaten chocolate, watch for:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • A severe increase or decrease in blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors/muscle twitching
  • Weakness
  • Coma
  • Cardiac failure

What To Do If Your Cat Eats Chocolate

If you suspect your cat has eaten chocolate, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian immediately. If the incident occurs outside of normal business hours, do not wait; call an emergency vet. Time is of the essence, even if the cat shows no immediate signs of distress. It can take several hours for symptoms to present, and once they do, they progress rapidly. The severity of the toxicity will depend on the type and amount of chocolate ingested however, some cats can be far more sensitive to theobromine than others and even a very small amount of chocolate can be deadly.

If you witnessed the cat ingest chocolate, the vet may walk you through the steps to induce vomiting in your cat immediately in order to empty their stomach and prevent toxins from entering the bloodstream. If you are unable to do so, the vet may induce vomiting when you arrive at the office. If too much time has passed to induce vomiting, the veterinarian may give the cat activated charcoal. This is given through the mouth in liquid form. It binds the chocolate and limits the stomach and intestines’ ability to absorb the harmful compounds. Once they have completed their initial evaluation and taken immediate steps to prevent further absorption, the vet will put the cat on a course of treatment that will likely include intravenous fluids to keep the body hydrated as it attempts to rid itself of the theobromine. The cat may also be given a urinary catheter in order to keep the bladder empty to prevent reabsorption of caffeine into the system. The cat may be admitted for observation and ongoing treatment, depending upon the severity of the situation. It can take several days for a cat to recover from a chocolate poisoning, but not all cats will survive, even with treatment.

Prevention Is The Best Medicine

Cats are typically less curious about food than their canine counterparts, but owners should always do their best to keep chocolate out of a cat’s reach. Do not leave candies or cookies laying around the house in uncovered dishes, and teach children never to share their chocolate treats with their pets. The only way to ensure a cat is not poisoned by chocolate is to prevent them eating it.