Chocolate intoxication in cats

Eating chocolate can be very dangerous to cats. It can cause damage to the heart and brain, possibly even death. If your cat ingests chocolate, speak to a vet immediately for further advice. 

Cats are much less likely to be interested in chocolate than dogs, but the risk of intoxication is thought to be the same or worse. Because of the small body size of the average cat, the amount needed to cause serious problems is quite small, especially with things like cocoa powder or baking chocolate. If you suspect your cat has ingested chocolate products, try to stay calm and speak to a vet as soon as possible. It can be very helpful if you have any package information at hand.



What is chocolate intoxication in cats?

The cocoa seed, used to make chocolate, contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine. The human body can quickly process and eliminate these substances, preventing them from causing harm. Cats, however, struggle to achieve this and can become seriously ill if they ingest cocoa products.

A higher percentage of cocoa solids means more of these stimulants, so the risk is higher with:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Baking chocolate
  • Strong dark chocolate

Milk chocolate can still be dangerous, especially as cats are likely to ingest larger amounts.

The amount of chocolate needed to cause toxicity is not well known in cats, but is thought to be similar to dogs. As such, as little as 14g of milk chocolate or 3.5g of dark chocolate per kg of body weight can be dangerous and require treatment.

Always speak to a vet straight away to assess if the amount ingested could be dangerous to your cat.

If treatment is necessary, it should be started as soon as possible to be more effective. If symptoms have already started, treatment is more difficult but often still possible.



Symptoms of chocolate intoxication in cats

Symptoms usually start 2-6 hours after ingestion, but it can take as long as 24 hours. They can last up to three days. You may see:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Drooling
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination or accidents in the house (sometimes even dribbling of urine)
  • Restlessness or excitability
  • Panting

Severe cases will have:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • High Temperature
  • Heart problems (heart beating too fast or out of rhythm)



Cats at higher risk for chocolate intoxication

Cats that have heart disease are at higher risk of developing serious heart problems after eating chocolate.

Cats with ongoing digestive problems are likely to have more serious gastrointestinal symptoms.

There is some individual variation in the metabolism of theobromine and caffeine, and some cats may be more susceptible to intoxication.



Diagnosis of chocolate intoxication in cats

Diagnosis is usually based on finding out about chocolate ingestion and the symptoms. Vomit will often smell a bit like chocolate.

Other stimulants, such as caffeine products and some drugs, can cause the same symptoms. Tests can be done on stomach contents and blood with special equipment, but this is rarely necessary and doesn’t usually change the treatment.


Vet treatment

Veterinary treatment of chocolate intoxication

  • The first and most important step in treating an intoxication is to stop the poison from getting into the blood and organs. If possible, the stomach should be emptied within the first 1-2 hours after having eaten the chocolate. This can be difficult to achieve in cats but is usually done with an injection or by pumping the stomach under anaesthesia.
  • The next step is to give activated charcoal. This will stick to the chocolate in the gut and prevent it from being digested. Large amounts are needed, so a high-strength veterinary product is best. This may be needed for up to three days.
  • Cases with symptoms will need to be hospitalised and put on a drip. This helps to eliminate the toxins from the body. The heart function will need to be monitored with an ECG. Medication to stabilise the heart may be required.
  • Muscle tremors and excitability will be treated with mild sedatives and muscle relaxants. If seizures develop, these will need to be treated with strong medications

After 72 hours, all of the toxins will be eliminated from the body, and most cases will make a full recovery.


Home treatment

Home treatment of chocolate toxicity in cats

When enough chocolate is ingested to cause problems, chocolate intoxication is a potentially life-threatening emergency and should be treated by a vet as soon as possible. Please consult with a vet straight away.

Many accidental intoxications in cats happen when they groom themselves to remove things from their coat. If your cat gets any chocolate products on their coat, immediately stop them from grooming and clean them as thoroughly as you can.

Inducing vomiting at home should be avoided whenever possible. It is difficult to do and can waste precious time, and there is a significant risk of serious complications like aspiration pneumonia.



Prevention of chocolate intoxication

  • Most cats are very curious and inquisitive. Only a small amount of concentrated products like cocoa powder is needed to cause problems. Always keep chocolate products somewhere closed and out of reach of your cat.
  • Make sure everyone in the family knows chocolate is dangerous to cats

Living with Chocolate Intoxication in Cats

A serious case of chocolate intoxication can be a terrifying experience and need intensive treatment, but most cats are expected to make a full recovery once the toxin is out of their system and will be back to normal after a few days.


When to worry

When to worry about Chocolate Intoxication

Seek a vet in practice straight away if your cat has ingested chocolate or develops any of the following symptoms:

  • Intense vomiting
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination or accidents in the house (sometimes even dribbling of urine)
  • Restlessness or excitability
  • Panting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Joii can help if you want to:

  • discuss if the amount of chocolate your cat ingested needs treatment
  • know what to watch out for
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