Never give cats chocolate! Never give dogs chocolate! Most pet owners have had this warning drilled into them. But few people, including veterinarians, ever explain why you should not give cats (or dogs) chocolate. It seems quite logical to assume, then, that cats are allergic to chocolate and will have a dangerous reaction to it.
Chocolate Is Toxic to Cats, but they are Not ‘Allergic’ To It
If cats were allergic to chocolate, it would mean that chocolate was harmless to them, but there immune system overreacts to it, causing the typical symptoms of such reactions. Although cats can indeed have allergies, and can even have allergic reactions to certain foods, the cat’s problem with chocolate is not generally due to allergy. That is to say, it may be possible for an individual cat to be allergic to chocolate, but this is not the reason we are warned not to give chocolate to cats.
Why Can’t Cats Have Chocolate?
The problem that cats have with chocolate is due to the theobromine it contains, along with caffeine and theophylline. All three of these compounds are alkaloids called methylxanthines. You already know that caffeine is a stimulant. Well, these other chemicals are similar to caffeine, although there structures are slightly different.
Caffeine is not particularity good for cats, but theobromine is toxic to them. The 1,2,3 punch of all three in chocolate is bad news, indeed. Theobromine sticks around in a cat’s system (and dogs) for a lot longer than caffeine. And, even when these methylxanthines end up in the urine, they can be reabsorbed from the urinary bladder, and make their way through the bloodstream again.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Cats
One of the primary symptoms of chocolate poisoning in cats is tachycardia, or a racing heart beat. Cardiac arrhythmia can also occur, which is an irregular heartbeat. This in itself can cause sudden death. Due to the diuretic effect, urinary incontinence may also occur. This is just the beginning, depending on the dose received, other symptoms are:
- ataxia (loss of control of body movements)
- muscle tremors
- abdominal pain
- hematuria (blood in urine)
- cyanosis (bluish discoloration of skin [gums, inner lips])
So, obviously, nothing good can come from cats eating chocolate. Often, sources will report the amounts of theobromine in different kinds of chocolate, but it is not as if you are going to give your cat milk chocolate because it contains less. The reason these amounts are given is to get an idea of the relative dose that a cat may have ingested. This is good to know, as dark chocolate, such as bakers chocolate, contains ten times as much theobromine as milk chocolate. It would take a lot more milk chocolate to poison your cat than dark chocolate, and some specialty high cacao dark chocolates will contain even more of the chemical. It is the cacao which contains the theobromine, caffeine, and theophylline. The more cacao in the dark chocolate, the more of these chemicals will be present. Some very dark and bitter chocolates can have over 85% cacao.
What about Chocolate Ice Cream and Chocolate Milk?
Chocolate ice cream should not be given to cats, for reasons that should be obvious. The same goes for chocolate milk. However, chocolate ice cream and chocolate milk contains much less of these dangerous chemicals that either dark chocolate or milk chocolate, simply because it contains less chocolate. Therefore, neither poses as much danger to your cat as actual chocolate. They could be dangerous, but they are not quite as dangerous. If you cat licks your ice cream bowl after you’ve eaten chocolate ice cream out of it, you do not need to panic! Don’t let him continue to lick it for long, but don’t worry about small amounts.
Can Cats Eat White Chocolate?
We’ve already established that cats are not actually allergic to chocolate, but that chocolate is poisonous to them. Strictly speaking, white chocolate is not actually chocolate. Real chocolate has two components, the cacao or cocoa solids, which give chocolate its bitter taste, and the cocoa butter, or fat content. Both of these are part of the original cocoa bean, but when chocolate is made, they are separated and then recombined in varying proportions. This is why you can buy dark chocolate with varying percentages of cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao, or cocoa solids, the darker the chocolate, and the more bitter it tastes. It is the cacao that contains the theobromine, theophylline, and caffeine which are problematic for your cat.
White chocolate contains no cacao. It is simply sweetened cocoa butter turned into a confection. It is possible for white chocolate to perhaps contain trace amounts of theobromine, etc. In fact, if you look closely at the photo of white chocolate, below, you will see tiny brown specks in it. This is just little bits of cacao in the cocoa butter. There is not enough to pose any danger to a cat. Again, it is not actually chocolate, but a white-colored candy made from cocoa butter. So, cats are not allergic to “white chocolate.” Some products sold as white chocolate do not even contain cocoa butter, but are simply made from sugar, oils, and other ingredients. Regardless of whether or not white chocolate poses a danger to a cat, they are not likely to be interested in it.
Is Chocolate Poisoning Common in Cats?
Given all the dire warnings, you’d think this was a regular occurrence. The reality is, its dogs who end up at the vet having eaten a bunch of chocolate, usually around Halloween or, perhaps Valentines day. Dogs, of course, are not very selective eaters. As well, they have a certain appreciation for sweets.
Since chocolate is also dangerous for cats, they get thrown in their with dogs, but cats, in general, don’t really go for chocolate, and although it is possible a cat gets in trouble now and again, chocolate poisoning is not common in cats. Cats don’t really have taste buds for sweet.
Cats do tend to go for ice cream, and you should not let your cat lick your bowl after eating chocolate ice cream. However, if your cat takes a few licks, there is nothing much to worry about. In case your cat is one of those cats that just eats anything (my cat loves Thai food and corn on the cob), by all means, keep the chocolate secured!
If your cat does eat chocolate, especially a large amount of it, call your vet immediately. They may want you to induce vomiting. They will certainly want you to bring your pet in immediately.