Chocolate Poisoning (Toxicosis) in Cats

Summary

Chocolate toxicosis refers to poisoning caused by ingestion of chocolate, and is rare in cats. As with any case of poisoning, severity depends on the type and quantity of chocolate consumed. The toxic compounds present in chocolate are methylxanthines and caffeine. Symptoms can range from salivation, to vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, cardiac arrhythmias, and seizures. Severe cases of chocolate poisoning in cats can be lethal. Treatment consists of GI decontamination by inducing vomiting, and/or supportive treatment of symptoms. 

The sooner treatment is started once the toxicosis is suspected, the more likely there is to be a positive outcome. Inducing vomiting is often the best, first course of action for suspected (or confirmed) chocolate toxicosis, but is only helpful when performed within hours of consumption of the toxin. There is no safe or effective method for attempting to induce vomiting at home for cats. Any cat who has ingested something potentially dangerous needs emergency veterinary care.

The syndrome can be prevented by conscientious storage of chocolate and chocolate-containing foods.

Risk Factors

Chocolate toxicosis is rare in cats. Chocolate is highly toxic to cats; a smaller dose per body weight is lethal to a cat than it is as compared to a dog. Despite this, the syndrome is reported less frequently in cats than in dogs because cats do not commonly eat chocolate, at least not in large quantities like dogs often do. Most cases of chocolate toxicosis in cats show only GI symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea because the cat didn’t eat enough to cause more severe symptoms. 

The severity of and prognosis for chocolate toxicosis in cats varies depending on the amount and type of chocolate consumed as well as the cat’s body weight and health status. Chocolate-containing foods such as baked goods are unlikely to cause symptoms other than vomiting and diarrhea, while darker chocolates or those high in methylxanthines may produce severe symptoms even in small doses. 

Chocolate toxicity calculators (based on body weight vs. amount consumed) are available online and can provide pet parents with information about what symptoms are expected under specific circumstances, but professional advice from a veterinarian is recommended whenever a cat eats chocolate. 

Minor symptoms such as salivation (drooling) and vomiting may be monitored at home. Emergency veterinary care is warranted for cats showing more serious symptoms such as hyperactivity, tremors, or seizures.

Possible Causes

Chocolate toxicosis is caused by consumption of chocolate or chocolate-containing foods. The concentration of methylxanthines in the chocolate and the quantity consumed is what determines the extent of toxicity.

Main Symptoms

Early symptoms of chocolate toxicosis may not progress if the dosage of toxin ingested is low. Nausea (drooling) and vomiting that goes away within a few minutes may indicate minor chocolate toxicosis and may not require medical attention. 

More serious symptoms of chocolate poisoning require medical attention, including:

• Salivation (ptyalism) • Vomiting • Diarrhea • Restlessness, pacing,  and hyperactivity

• Polydipsia / Polyuria (excessive drinking and urination) • Tremors • Seizures

Detailed Characterization

Early symptoms like nausea and vomiting typically appear less than an hour after ingestion. When larger amounts of chocolate are consumed and more serious symptoms develop, they are expected to peak within 6-12 hours of ingestion, and follow a predictable course. Minor symptoms such as excessive drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, and restlessness appear first. Depending on the dosage and size of the cat, more serious symptoms may follow like hyperactivity, tremors, and seizures. If the ingested dose was sufficiently high, these serious symptoms can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on the history of chocolate ingestion and the presence of typical clinical signs. When there is no known ingestion, evidence of chocolate in the vomit can aid in diagnosis. 

The typical diagnostic plan for a cat suspected of having chocolate toxicosis includes a physical examination and basic blood and urine tests. There is a specific blood test to measure the level of methylxanthines in the blood, but it is rarely ordered because most cases of chocolate toxicosis are diagnosed based on the presence of typical clinical signs and known ingestion of chocolate. Treatment typically involves induction of vomiting, activated charcoal, administration of IV fluids, and medications to counteract the presenting symptoms.

Steps to Recovery

Although there is scant data on cats, the effects of chocolate toxicosis can last up to 4 days in dogs. 

Prognosis is primarily dependent on the amount of chocolate consumed, and how quickly treatment is initiated Most cases of chocolate toxicosis in cats have a favorable prognosis, with no lasting effects expected, since cats tend to eat small quantities of chocolate when dietary indiscretions occur.

Prevention

Chocolate toxicosis is not contagious to humans or other animals. Conscientious storage of chocolate and chocolate-containing foods away from pets’ access prevents chocolate toxicosis.

Is Chocolate Poisoning Common in Cats?

Chocolate toxicosis is rare in cats.

Typical Treatment

Treatment typically begins by inducing vomiting to decontaminate the GI system, and progresses to supportive care of symptoms (IV fluids, monitoring, and medications).If life-threatening symptoms are present, like seizures or heart arrhythmias, those are typically addressed first with appropriate injectable medications.

Want to speak to a vet now?

Book an appointment

Health concern with your pet?

Start a video chat with a licensed veterinary professional right now on Vetster!

Book an online vet

Online veterinarian and virtual pet care services available on-demand.

Available now on Apple and Play stores.

Vet on phone