NOTE: IF your cat may have eaten chocolate, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.
It’s well known that chocolate is toxic to our canine companions, but did you know that it’s just as bad, if not worse, for cats to get into?
Chocolate ingestion seems less common in cats (perhaps because they can't taste “sweet” things), but when it does happen, the toxicity is just as severe.
Here’s everything you need to know about chocolate toxicity in cats and what you can do if you suspect that your cat has eaten chocolate.
What Makes Chocolate Toxic to Cats?
The compounds that make chocolate such a satisfying treat for people are the same that make it so dangerous for dogs and cats.
Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine and larger amounts of a related compound, theobromine. These compounds are known as methylxanthines, and both of them contribute to clinical signs of toxicity.
In general, the concentration of caffeine and theobromine in chocolate is proportional to how much cocoa is present.
Darker chocolates and baking chocolates are the most dangerous, even in small amounts. That said, even white chocolate can potentially cause clinical signs in cats due to their small size, so ingestion of any type should be taken seriously.
What Are the Clinical Signs of Chocolate Toxicity in Cats?
Clinical signs usually occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion and can last for up to three days in severe cases.
Any of the following clinical signs would be concerning in a cat:
Increased heart rate
Panting or rapid breathing
These symptoms can progress very quickly. Heart rate and rhythm changes can lead to low blood pressure, while muscle tremors and spasms can lead to dangerously high body temperatures.
If left untreated, these changes can be fatal.
What Should You Do if Your Cat Eats Chocolate?
If you suspect that your cat has eaten chocolate, immediately call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.
Unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian, please leave it to the professionals and do NOT use hydrogen peroxide to make your cat vomit. This can cause severe stomach ulcers in cats.
It’s helpful to have the following information ready, if possible:
When the ingestion occurred
The name of the specific product that was ingested (wrappers are ALWAYS helpful if you can bring them)
The amount of chocolate you think your cat ate
List of clinical signs you’ve noticed
Though a vet visit will likely be recommended, having this information will help the veterinary team assess your cat's risk and develop a plan while you’re on your way.
What Will Your Vet Do if Your Cat Eats Chocolate?
Treatment of chocolate ingestion will vary from case to case but usually includes the following:
The first step is to get as much of the chocolate out of your cat's stomach as possible. Cats are notoriously difficult to make vomit, even with the medications available at your vet's office. You should NOT try to make your cat vomit at home.
If inducing vomiting is not successful, and the potential for toxicity is severe, some cats will be given activated charcoal to bind the toxins or be sedated and have their stomachs pumped. The less toxin absorbed, the less likely it is that there will be severe side effects.
For cats showing clinical signs of toxicity, hospitalization is likely.
Your vet will choose a combination of medications targeting the specific symptoms (anti-seizure medications for tremors and/or heart medications for arrhythmias). They will also use fluid therapy to support the heart and blood pressure, as well as help your cat's body excrete the toxin faster.
How to Prevent Chocolate Toxicity in Cats
As with any toxic substance, avoiding ingestion is always the best practice.
Be sure to keep chocolate in cabinets and ideally in cat-proof containers, as cats are rarely dissuaded by heights or doors.
Try not to leave baked goods or even baking supplies unattended on the counter, or keep your cat out of the kitchen while baking.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Stujah