If you’re living with a cat in your home, chances are you’ve probably shared a bite or two of your food with them – this could be fish, meat or even some cheese from your meal. It’s a rewarding experience to be able to share your food with your feline companion, and is surely one of the more affectionate bonding methods you can have with them. But the truth is, you can’t share every single thing you enjoy eating with your cat – and today, we’re talking about that bittersweet, ever-popular food item made from the cacao bean: Chocolate.
The answer is…NO!
Your cats are curious creatures, and will often take a sniff at whatever’s on your plate, or in your hand as you eat. But before you get tempted to break off a tiny piece of that chocolate bar you’re savoring to share it with your cat, think twice! When it comes to cats eating chocolate, the fact is this: Sharing is not caring!
Chocolate may be good for us humans, and we can find the comforting taste of chocolate almost everywhere we look. It is readily accessible to us for any occasion in all shapes and forms – chocolate brownies, cookies, ice cream, bars, and even chocolate potato chips.
But if your cat is dying to take a bite of a chocolate piece you’re eating – don’t give it to them. To put it simply, chocolate is highly toxic to cats, and will cause serious medical complications if chocolate is consumed in large amounts and if not treated ASAP.
Why can’t cats eat chocolate?
So now we know that chocolates are toxic to cats. But why is that so? This is because chocolates contain chemicals that are harmful to cats. These chemicals are called methylxanthines, an umbrella term that groups theobromine (alkaloid found in the cacao plant), and caffeine (the same compound found in coffee).
In humans, theobromine and caffeine are easily ingested, and then absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract to be broken down and distributed around the body. However, in cats (and dogs, too!), these chemicals cannot be ingested properly, taking a much longer time to break down and process. This results in a build up of these chemicals in your cat’s body, often turning into high, toxic levels that produce conditions such as irregular heartbeat, muscle tremors and seizures that can be fatal.
How much chocolate can they consume before they get sick?
Generally, you should not feed your cat any chocolate at all. But in the event that there is accidental consumption of chocolate, it is always good to know how much chocolate they can take before they get completely sick.
The toxicity of chocolate varies from product to product – as a general rule, milk chocolate is less toxic than dark chocolate, due to the lower amount of cacao found in milk chocolate products. The darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao levels and the more toxic it will be to your cat.
But what about white chocolate? Well, technically white chocolate isn’t really a chocolate product at all – it is made with cocoa butter, sugar and flavoring, but with insignificant cacao levels in cocoa butter, it barely qualifies as a chocolate product. However, this doesn’t mean you should actively encourage your cat to start eating white chocolate on a daily basis – always stick to the recommended diet of wet and dry cat food, mixed with raw or cooked meat and fish.
For the question of how much chocolate your cat can eat before they get sick, it largely depends on the physiology of your cat, and how sensitive they are to the chemicals theobromine and caffeine in the cacao. There is however, a Chocolate Toxicity calculator you can use to roughly crunch some numbers if your cat has just ingested chocolate.
What other toxic foods can’t they eat?
Cats have a list of foods that they can’t share with humans, listed below:
- Dough containing yeast
- Uncooked eggs
- Citrus fruits (Oranges, Lemons)
The list is not exhaustive, however, the above is a definite list of toxic foods for cats.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning
Chocolate poisoning is a serious issue in cats, and the symptoms are very clear to see. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect your cat has chocolate poisoning.
Vomiting is a clear symptom that something is wrong. If your cat is vomiting frequently (and not just because of clearing hairballs), it is best to investigate if your cat has consumed any chocolate recently.
2. Increased water drinking that leads to increased urination
Cats drink more water and urinate more because of the discomfort that they feel when the toxic effects of the theobromine and caffeine start to build up in their body.
3. Generally imbalanced coordination
When toxicity in the blood increases, the coordination and muscle balance decreases. You’ll notice when your cat starts to be less agile than usual.
4.Increase in heart rate and restlessness
High toxicity caused by chocolate also results in an increased heart rate and a feeling of restlessness in your cat.
Bloating is another common issue found in cats when they accidentally ingest cacao in chocolates.
How to treat chocolate poisoning
Activated charcoal is a substance that vets use to reduce toxicity levels in cats when it comes to situations like chocolate poisoning. You may recognize activated charcoal as it is also used in the treatment of humans in cases of food poisoning or diarrhea.
However, it must be said that adverse chocolate poisoning is not something that should be treated at home – it is always a good idea to make an emergency appointment at the vet if your cat has ingested large amounts of chocolate (in ratio to the weight, age and size of your cat). The medical professionals at your vet can then recommend whether your cat needs to be admitted to the animal hospital for monitoring and treatment to ensure a full, speedy and healthy recovery.