Wondering if your cat can eat chocolate? In short, no. Learn why chocolate is so dangerous and what to do if your cat steals a bite.

By Sarah Mouton Dowdy
August 24, 2020
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Steven Heap / EyeEm / Wladimir Bulgar / Getty / Emma Darvick

Is your cat whining for a taste of your brownie, candy bar, or ice cream? In this case, sharing is not caring. The answer to the question, can cats eat chocolate is, no. 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.

Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?

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.

Why Isn’t Chocolate Safe for Cats to Eat?

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

What are Signs of Chocolate Poisoning in Cats?

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

Some signs of chocolate toxicosis in cats include:

  • Vomiting and 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 (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 Should I Do if I Know or Suspect My Cat Has Eaten 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 of 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 something called 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 Foods Can I Share with 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. Take a cue from your cat and be picky about what you feed him. 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.