We know chocolate isn’t good for cats – outright toxic, even – but how much chocolate can kill a cat?
It’s a lot more common to hear stories about dogs getting sick from eating chocolate, so we often don’t focus as much on how it affects cats, but chocolate is just as bad for cats as it can be for dogs.
The caffeine and theobromine that chocolate contains is very toxic to cats. Even doses as small as 20-40 mg can cause severe symptoms, from vomiting and diarrhea to death. Some types of chocolate are more toxic than others, but all kinds of chocolate are bad for cats.
Cats are curious and unpredictable, and often end up poking their nose where it doesn’t belong. Knowing what’s safe for your cat and what isn’t helps keep your cat safe from their own antics.
We took opinions from cat owners and experts on how different kinds of chocolates affect cats and what you should do in case your cat ends up eating some, and collected the info together in one place.
Why is Chocolate Bad For Cats?
Because of all the conversation around chocolate being bad for dogs, many people assume that the reason why chocolate is toxic to cats is the same as it is for dogs. In reality, this is untrue. For dogs, the toxicity in chocolate can be attributed to the sugar and fat content, as well as xylitol.
These things aren’t good for cats either, but the main reason chocolate becomes a health risk for cats is because of caffeine and theobromine – both of which are naturally occurring components of cacao, which chocolate is made of.
The cacao plant’s Latin name is Theobroma cacao, which gives a clear idea of how much theobromine it must contain. The chemical is a stimulant, and research shows that it is toxic for most animals, cats included.
Caffeine is also a stimulant; both of these chemicals result in vasodilation, which results in high blood pressure and can cause cardiac arrhythmia. In smaller pets, small amounts of either one can even have more serious effects, like losing muscle control, tremors and even seizures. They can also affect the gastrointestinal tract and result in vomiting and diarrhea.
How Much Chocolate Is Dangerous?
In reality, any amount of chocolate, and any kind, is bad for cats. Whether it’s dark, milk or white, you should avoid letting your cat have access to chocolate lest they end up eating some.
However, some types are more dangerous for your cats than others. Baking chocolate and dry cocoa powder, for example, have much higher levels of theobromine than your average milk chocolate bar, and thus become much more dangerous for pets. White chocolate is significantly less toxic due to the low percentage of cocoa added to it, but it still remains pretty hazardous and should be avoided.
At the same time, while the chocolate itself is bad on its own, the effect it has on your cat will also be different depending on what kind is ingested, in what quantity, and even what your cat’s weight is.
For example, one square of baking chocolate can have the same level of toxicity as twenty-three milk chocolate drops for a cat that weighs ten pounds. Again, this is because of the high level of theobromine that baking chocolate contains, but the same amount may have a significantly greater impact on a cat with a lower body weight.
In general, a toxic amount of chocolate for cats is anywhere between 20-40mg, and can even be fatal. Considering that one square of minimally processed dark chocolate is about 10g, that’s a very small amount of chocolate to have such devastating effects!
Effects of Chocolate On Cats
As mentioned earlier, the chemicals included in chocolate – caffeine and theobromine – are stimulants, and negatively affect cats’ circulatory and gastrointestinal systems. The effects of these two chemicals on cats can be mild or severe, so it is best to know what they are. Some relatively milder symptoms, though not necessarily an indication that your cat is safe, include:
- Heart rate increased
- Feeling thirsty
In more serious situations, these symptoms become a lot more visible, and include:
- Hyperactivity and restlessness
- Body temperature rising
- Breathing very rapidly
- Muscle twitches or tremors
- Low or high blood pressure
If your cat happens to eat any amount of chocolate - of any kind! – The first thing you should do is bring your cat to the vet so they can check to see if your cat needs immediate medical attention or not. After receiving treatment, your cat will need to be monitored for a while to make sure there are no lingering effects of the chemicals.
What if Your Cat Eats Chocolate?
The most important thing to remember is that cats are very in tune with the emotions of the people around them. If your cat eats chocolate and you panic, they will probably also panic, and this may aggravate the symptoms (if any) of chocolate poisoning.
The best thing to do is to remain calm, even though it is admittedly difficult to do so when your pet may be sick. Take your cat to the vet and let them know that your cat has eaten chocolate. Ideally, you’d also keep a piece of the chocolate your cat ate with you, so that your vet can assess the amount and type to determine the severity of chocolate poisoning.
Vets may induce vomiting in your cat to keep them from absorbing any of the toxins into their blood. The chemicals mentioned above – caffeine and theobromine – are only dangerous for cats once they enter the blood, so if your cat is made to vomit in time, they may be safe from any negative effects.
Depending on the symptoms, your vet may also suggest some other kinds of care.
How to Keep Cats from Eating Chocolate
Curiosity killed the cat – perhaps because it ate some chocolate. Cats like to snoop around and discover new things, which could include your chocolate stash, and while cats will usually avoid anything that doesn’t smell right to them, there is never a 100% guarantee. Some cats may be extra-curious (particularly younger ones) and may end up eating some of the chocolate.
The good thing is that there is a 100% guaranteed success method to keep your cat from eating chocolate: keep it out of the way! Keep all your chocolate in a sealed container, and put it in a place your cat can’t easily reach.
In fact, you should also consider things that contain chocolate, like cookies, donuts, brownies, etc. Remember, a dangerous dose is as small as 20mg, and that’s really not very much. The icing of a donut can easily contain 20mg of chocolate.
As a cat owner, it’s natural for you to want to give your cat a yummy treat, but it wouldn’t be very nice to accidentally end up poisoning them instead. It’s best to stick to cat treats made specifically for cats, which are healthy and delicious for them as well.
In the meantime, you also get to keep your chocolate stash all to yourself.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore