While your kitty may be less likely to rummage through your candy bowl, the delicious treat is just as dangerous for cats as it is dogs.

Is your cat whining for a taste of your brownie, candy bar, or ice cream? In this case, sharing is not caring.

Cats cannot and should not eat chocolate. Chocolate is toxic for cats to eat and can cause serious harm if not treated immediately. While it may be less likely your cat will chow down on your chocolate chip cookie than your dog, we paired up with the University of Missouri Small Animal Clinical Nutrition Service in Columbia, Mo., to better understand the risks of chocolate and cats.

cat with background of chocolate pattern; can cats eat chocolate?
Credit: Steven Heap / EyeEm / Wladimir Bulgar / Getty

Cats are notoriously picky when it comes to food, but this could actually be a benefit when it comes to toxic substances. "It's relatively uncommon for us to see a food-related toxicity in cats," the Clinical Nutrition Service explains. "That's more of a dog problem." In fact, the Pet Poison Helpline says 95 percent of the calls it receives about chocolate come from dog owners.

But just because cats tend to be less trusting of new food items than their canine counterparts doesn't mean it's impossible for them to get into chocolate. And if that happens, the dangers are real.

Why Is Chocolate Bad for Cats?

The main toxic substances in chocolate are chemicals called methylxanthines—specifically, theobromine and caffeine. These substances are stimulants that are absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and distributed throughout the body, where they can cause heart problems, central nervous system dysfunction, and even death. 

Signs of Chocolate Poisoning in Cats

If your kitty does ingest a piece of your favorite candy, look out for signs of chocolate toxicosis, which tend to appear within six to twelve hours of their chocolate snack. 

Some signs and symptoms of chocolate poisoning in cats include:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Bloating
  • Impaired balance or coordination
  • Muscle rigidity or tremors 
  • Increased heart rate and rapid breathing

If your cat is having an extreme reaction to chocolate, it's possible for seizures, collapse, and even death to occur.

How Much Chocolate Does It Take to Make a Cat Sick?

The amount of the toxic ingredients in chocolate varies by product, meaning dry cocoa powder, semisweet, and dark chocolate is more toxic than milk chocolate. White chocolate is not a concern for poisoning (though you probably still shouldn't feed it to your cat).

Predicting exactly how a cat will respond to eating chocolate is difficult, as their response isn't just affected by the amount of chocolate eaten or the type of chocolate eaten. It can also depend on the cat's weight and their individual sensitivity to the toxic ingredients. The Merck Veterinary Manual's chocolate toxicity calculator can help you get an idea of how much chocolate your cat would need to eat before toxicosis is likely. 

What To Do if Your Cat Eats Chocolate

If you know or suspect your cat has eaten chocolate, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) immediately. You don't need to wait until you see clinical signs to seek help. Chocolate toxicosis is a progressive illness, so the sooner you treat it, the better off your cat will be.

How Is Chocolate Poisoning in Cats Treated?

There isn't an antidote for chocolate poisoning in cats, and the kind of treatment your cat receives will likely depend on how much chocolate your cat ate, what kind, and the types of clinical signs he's showing. The first step in treating your cat for chocolate toxicity will be stabilization to address any clinical signs. For example, a cat experiencing tremors or seizures may be given medication to control them. 

Once the cat is stable, or if the problem is caught before the cat starts showing any clinical signs of toxicity, your vet may want to clean out the cat's stomach. It's possible your cat will vomit on his own naturally, or your vet may opt to induce vomiting.

Your vet may also treat your cat with activated charcoal, which acts like a magnet to attract toxic substances and carry them through the gastrointestinal tract and out of the body. Depending on your cat's symptoms, it's possible your vet will want to admit him to the animal hospital for other supportive therapies and monitoring.

What Other Foods Should I Avoid Feeding My Cat?

Chocolate shares its "toxic" designation with several other human foods, and unfortunately, the Clinical Nutrition Service says the current list of foods that are toxic for cats probably isn't exhaustive. "There are plenty of food items that have not undergone peer-reviewed studies determining their toxicity," so it's best to practice caution, they say.

Some human foods that are definitely toxic for cats, though, include:

  • Grapes and raisins
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Xylitol (a common artificial sweetener)
  • Bread dough containing yeast (baked bread isn't toxic, though)
  • Oranges and other citrus fruits
  • Raw eggs (cooked eggs are OK for healthy cats, though)
  • Onions and garlic
  • Macadamia nuts

Take a cue from your cat and be picky about what you feed him. If you want to give your cat a special snack, the best options are vet-approved treats or cat-safe homemade treats. It's always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian before adding any new human foods, even the ones on the list of foods that are safe.