Is chocolate toxic to cats; and is it as bad for cats as it is for dogs?

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Louisa Lane
7th Jul 2022
6 mins read
Summary
Chocolate is toxic to most pets, including cats. This is because it contains a chemical called "theobromine", which is similar to caffeine and is toxic to cats. You should never feed your cat any food or drink that contains chocolate or cocoa. And keep all chocolatey treats out of paws' reach. If your cat eats any chocolate, call your vet right away and follow their advice. If you can, tell them the type of chocolate and how much your cat ate, and when they ate it.
Pets eating things they shouldn’t is a
common cause of illness
, and eating chocolate is one of the most common causes of poisoning in pets. And while most of us know chocolate is toxic to dogs, did you know it's just as dangerous for cats?
Admittedly, dogs are more likely to get into trouble eating something they shouldn't. But curious cats can still end up sick if they eat something dangerous, like chocolate.
If your cat eats something they shouldn’t, it could put their life at risk and rack up a hefty
vet bill of around £1200-2000
. Luckily, Napo is there to help cover the cost of any unexpected vet bills.
To coincide with World Chocolate Day, we’ve put together this guide to answer; is chocolate toxic to cats? (Spoiler alert, it is.)
Read on to find out why chocolate is toxic to cats, what the signs of chocolate poisoning in cats are, and what to do if your cat has eaten some chocolate.

Is chocolate toxic to cats?

Although many of us know that chocolate is toxic to dogs, some people are surprised to find it’s toxic to cats too. In fact, it’s even more dangerous to cats because eating a smaller amount of chocolate can cause more serious illnesses.
Chocolate poisoning in cats is an uncommon problem. This is largely due to the fact cats are usually selective about what they eat. (Unlike dogs, who often try to scoff anything they can get their paws on!)
Plus, cats can’t taste sweet things like we do, so chocolate probably doesn’t appeal to them.
However, it’s worth being aware of the dangers of chocolate poisoning in cats, and doing what you can to prevent it ever being a problem.

Why is chocolate bad for cats?

Chocolate is bad for cats because it contains both theobromine and caffeine, two naturally occurring chemicals that are toxic to cats.
Most animals, including cats, struggle to metabolise theobromine or caffeine. That means their body can’t digest them efficiently. So instead of being broken down by the body within a few hours to be used or excreted, the chemicals recirculate around the body, continuing to make them sick.
Not to mention, some chocolates contain additional ingredients that are toxic to cats, including alcohol and raisins.
Chocolate also contains a lot of sugar. Cats are true carnivores, so their digestive system isn’t developed to efficiently digest carbohydrates like sugar. Plus, too much sugar in your cat’s diet can lead to health problems like tooth decay, diabetes, and weight gain. (That’s not too dissimilar to the problems humans have if they eat too much sugar!)
Finally, the high-fat content in some types of chocolate and chocolate products can put your cat at risk of acute pancreatitis, which can be life threatening.

How much chocolate is poisonous to cats?

How much chocolate is poisonous to cats depends on the amount of theobromine in the chocolate, and the size of your cat.
Eating as little as 15mg/kg of theobromine is enough to cause illness in cats.
Higher doses cause more serious illness, and could put your cat's life at risk. If your cat eats 45-55mg/kg of theobromine, it can cause seizures.
Any amount higher than that could be potentially fatal for them.
However, that amount of theobromine that will make your cat sick can vary. Kittens and old cats are more vulnerable to toxins, and so are cats with underlying health issues. Smaller cats with lower body weights can also become sick after eating smaller amounts of chocolate.
That's why it's always safest to never feed chocolate products to your cat.
The image shows a stack of different chocolates. One is white with hazelnuts, another is milk with peanut butter, one is milk and nut, and another is praline.

What type of chocolate is more dangerous to cats?

The amount of theobromine in chocolate varies depending on the type of chocolate, so some sweets are more dangerous to cats than others.
White chocolate has very little theobromine content, about 0.1mg/g of theobromine. Meanwhile, milk chocolate has around 2mg/g.
Dark chocolate , baking chocolate, and cocoa powder are extremely dangerous if your cat eats them because they contain a higher concentration. These chocolates contain 15-20mg/g of theobromine.
That means your cat only needs to eat a few grams of dark chocolate to become very sick.
That’s why the safest thing to do is to avoid feeding your cat any chocolate, and keep all chocolatey treats out of their reach.

Can chocolate kill a cat if they eat it?

Chocolate can kill a cat if they eat a lot of it, or if they eat a type of chocolate with high levels of theobromine.
A 5g square of dark chocolate contains around 100mg of theobromine. However, the average cat is around 5kg. That means the levels of theobromine are 20mg/kg. It will certainly make your cat sick and they will need veterinary treatment, but it hopefully shouldn't put their life at risk.
Luckily, chocolate poisoning in cats is relatively uncommon in the first place, and fatal cases are rare. But you should still avoid feeding your cat chocolate to avoid any preventable illness.

Signs of chocolate poisoning in cats

Your cat won't become sick straight after eating chocolate. It can take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours before they show any signs of illness.
Some of the common signs of chocolate poisoning in cats are:
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Panting
  • Increased thirst (Polydipsia)
  • Increased urination
  • Rapid heartrate
  • High blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma

How long does chocolate poisoning last in cats?

As mentioned above, it can take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours for your cat to become sick after eating chocolate.
But because cats can’t metabolise theobromine effectively, it can potentially stay in their system and make them sick for up to 72 hours.

Is chocolate worse for cats than dogs?

It is arguably worse if your cat eats chocolate because they have a much lower tolerance to the toxins inside it. Your cat can become seriously ill after ingesting a much smaller amount of chocolate, or theobromine, compared to a dog.
However, cats are much less likely to ingest chocolate than dogs.
This is largely due to the fact dogs are omnivores and “indiscriminate” eaters. (In other words, dogs will eat anything.) Meanwhile, cats don’t have tastebuds that detect “sweet” things, so chocolate is probably unappealing to them.
However, that doesn't make a cat eating chocolate impossible. It's best to be safe and keep all chocolate out of your cat's reach.

What should you do if your cat eats chocolate?

If you think your cat has eaten chocolate, or any product containing cocoa, you must call your vet. They’ll advise you on what to do to help your cat.
If possible, tell your vet what chocolate product your cat ate, how much they ate, and when they ate it. You should also keep a note of any and all symptoms your cat shows.
They might ask about your cat’s weight and age, as these factors impact your cat’s tolerance to toxins like chocolate.
The image shows a ginger cat lying on their owner and having their head stroked.

Treatment for chocolate poisoning in cats

Although there is no antidote for chocolate poisoning in cats, many cats make a full recovery as long as they receive prompt veterinary care.
When you bring your cat to the vet they will receive supportive care to manage their symptoms and support their body so that it can rid itself of the toxins.

Treatment to try and remove the toxins

If it has only been a few minutes or hours since your cat ate chocolate, your vet might try to induce vomiting, although this is very difficult to do with cats. This will get as much chocolate out of their stomach as possible.
However, you must
never
attempt to induce vomiting at home as you might cause your cat additional harm.
Alternatively, your vet may feed your cat activated charcoal. This will bind with the theobromine in their system and prevent it from being absorbed by the body.
Never
feed your cat DIY activated charcoal as this could do more harm than good. Activated charcoal is specially formulated and prescribed by vets.
If some time has passed since your cat has eaten chocolate, these treatments may be ineffective as the theobromine would already have been absorbed.

Supportive treatment for chocolate poisoning in cats

Your cat will likely be given IV fluids as part of their treatment. This helps to combat dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhoea, and stimulates detoxification in the liver.
Any additional treatment your cat requires will depend on their symptoms.
If your cat has suffered from seizures, they may be given anti-seizure medication (such as phenobarbital). Alternatively, they may be given a sedative to reduce restlessness and distress.

How to prevent chocolate poisoning in cats

The best way you can prevent chocolate poisoning in cats is to simply keep all food and drink containing chocolate and cocoa out of reach of your cat.
Make sure everyone in your home, including any children, know that they shouldn’t feed the cat any chocolate. They also shouldn’t leave chocolate out where your cat could eat it.
Finally, avoid using cocoa mulch in your garden. Cocoa mulch is a by-product of the chocolate industry used as a fertiliser. However, it does contain theobromine. If your cat ingests any while digging in the mulch, or licking their paws after walking in it, they could potentially become sick.

Final thoughts

Although many of us know that chocolate is toxic to dogs, you might not realise it can be an even bigger danger to your cat.
To prevent any risks to your cat's health, never feed them any food or drinks with chocolate or cocoa in. Keep all chocolate products out of paw's reach.
If your cat ever does eat chocolate, call your vet right away for advice.
As part of any Napo policy, you can video call a vet at anytime for free. Find out more about our cover and how we can protect your pet with an instant quote.

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