Can Cats Eat Christmas Chocolate?

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  • Can cats eat Christmas chocolate?

    Cats cannot eat Christmas chocolate as it contains theobromine and caffeine which are both toxic to cats. Both compounds affect the central nervous, respiratory and cardiovascular systems in cats and dogs.

    Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao plant, which contain methylxanthines, a group of alkaloids (a plant compound that has a central nervous system effect on animals and humans). Humans are better able to handle these compounds due to our much larger size.

    Fortunately, cats cannot taste sweet, so chocolate toxicity is less common than in dogs, but it is still a risk. The darker the chocolate, the greater the toxicity.

    Theobromine and caffeine levels in chocolate

    Type (source)

    Theobromine

    Caffeine

    Dry cocoa powder 576 mg per oz/28 g 64 mg per oz/28 g
    Baking chocolate 363 mg per oz/28 g 22.4 mg per oz/28 g
    Dark chocolate 70-85% 225 mg per oz/28 g 22.4 mg per oz/28 g
    Milk chocolate 57.4 mg per oz/28 g 5.6 mg per oz/28 g
    White chocolate Insignificant Insignificant

    Source:  Nutrition Data

    Symptoms of Christmas chocolate toxicity in cats

    Symptoms vary in the age of the cat (kittens are more susceptible than adults due to their smaller size), the quantity of chocolate consumed as well as the type of chocolate eaten. Dry cocoa powder and the darker chocolates contain higher amounts of theobromine and therefore are more dangerous.

    Early signs

    Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity occur between 6-12 hours of exposure.

    Late signs

    • Hyperactivity
    • Hyperirritability
    • Rapid breathing
    • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
    • Ataxia (wobbly gait)
    • Elevated temperature (hyperthermia) due to excessive muscle activity
    • Muscle twitching or tremors
    • Seizures
    • Cyanosis
    • Coma
    • Death

    What to do if a cat ingests chocolate

    The answer depends on the amount and the type of chocolate.

    White chocolate has so little theobromine in it; it is of no significance.

    Milk chocolate contains higher levels of theobromine, approximately four squares of chocolate are enough for symptoms to develop.

    Dark chocolate, baking chocolate, and dry cocoa powder are the most significant risk to cats. If your cat has consumed any of these, contact an emergency veterinarian immediately.

    Please be aware that even if your cat hasn’t ingested enough chocolate to cause symptoms of theobromine toxicity, there is still a risk of pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas, due to the high-fat content.

    Treatment

    There is no antidote to chocolate toxicity, the goal of treatment is to prevent further absorption and manage clinical signs.

    If ingestion was recent, the veterinarian will induce emesis (vomiting) to decontaminate the chocolate from the cat’s gastrointestinal tract followed by the administration of activated charcoal which will bind to any remaining chocolate in the small or large intestine. 

    Fluid therapy to treat and maintain hydration and correct electrolyte and acid-base imbalances caused by vomiting and diarrhea and help flush any remaining toxins out of the body by increasing urine output.

    Medications to control seizures and tremors, intubation will be required for cats experiencing severe toxicity and a urinary catheter may be placed to prevent re-absorption of toxins through the bladder wall. 

    Prevention

    Christmas is a busy time for most households and it’s easy for accidental ingestion if chocolate is left lying around, or a well-meaning family member or guest share some chocolate with household pests.

    • Remind children not to give pets any treats, unless an adult has said it is safe to do so.
    • Keep chocolate out of reach of cats.
    • Do not hang chocolates on Christmas trees.
    • Be mindful of chocolate or cocoa hidden in other foods and desserts.

    Christmas food cats can and can’t eat

    Safe to feed

    Do not feed

    Apples (seeds removed) Chocolate
    Beans Alcohol
    Carrot Stuffing (regular or forcemeat)
    Sweet potatoes (plain) Grapes or raisins
    Pumpkin (plain) Onion
    Potatoes (boiled, steamed, mashed, baked) Christmas cake
    Cranberry sauce Christmas pudding
    Corn Mince pie
    Brussels sprouts Garlic
    Turnip Gravy
    Peas Mushrooms
    Broccoli Cooked bones
    Cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb, turkey) Bread
    Ham Nuts
    Prawns (shrimp) Artificial sweeteners (xylitol)

    Feature image: marisc, Shutterstock