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Cats and Chocolates - Why these Two don't Mix

We all love chocolates, so it is not intuitive to accept that chocolate can be a deadly poison. Yet believe it or not, chocolate is one of the most frequent ways that our pets get poisoned. This happens especially during festive events such as Valentine's Day, Xmas, or someone's birthday. And if you believe that feeding chocolate to your cat will, at worst, cause only a slight stomach upset, you are deadly wrong.

It's important to make sure that the chocolate boxes are stashed out of your cat's reach. Also remember that this includes cooking chocolate and chocolate chips.

So what is so bad about chocolate?

Chocolate, or more precisely cacao contains a compound called theobromine which has four different effects on cats:

  1. It is a stimulant which increases heart rate.
  2. It is a diuretic (which means that it increases production of urine) resulting in increased loss of body fluids.
  3. It causes stomach upset.
  4. It acts on the nervous system.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning

The symptoms will very depending on the amount of chocolate the cat has eaten. The most common symptoms are: vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination, nausea, seizures, irregular heartbeat. A larger dose of chocolate may well cause a coma or death. Symptoms usually start within a few hours of ingestion but can take up to 36 hours. If you think that your cat has eaten chocolate, don't wait for the symptoms. Try to induce vomiting and contact your vet asap. Because the extent of poisoning will depend on how much chocolate is in your cat, the vet will almost certainly ask how big your cat is and how much chocolate she has had.

Are all chocolates equally poisonous?

Not all chocolates are equally dangerous because different chocolates contain different levels of theobromine. As mentioned above, theobromine is found in cacao, so the higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the more poisonous the chocolate is. For example, milk chocolate contains 60mg of theobromine per ounce whereas dark baking chocolate contains 450mg/oz. As a general rule, the more cacao in the chocolate, more dangerous the chocolate is. 45-50mg of theobromine per pound of body weight is sufficient to poison a cat; and 45-50mg is just 0.1oz of dark chocolate!

Why is chocolate poisonous to cats but not humans?

Whereas humans can metabolize theobromine effectively, cats cannot. If cats are fed with chocolate the theobromine remains in their bloodstream for up to 20 hours. The lack of clearance will result in the accumulation of theobromine, which will quickly reach toxic levels. Nor are cats the only animals which cannot metabolize theobromine. Chocolate is also toxic to horses, dogs, voles and parrots.

The science of theobromine.

Despite its name theobromine does not contain bromine. It is an alkaloid of the methylxanthine family. another member of this family is caffeine. An alkaloid is a naturally occurring amine (an organic compound that contains Nitrogen as a key molecule) produced by plants, although nowadays amines produced from animals and fungi are also referred to as alkaloids.

The name theobromine is derived from Theobroma, the genus of the cacao tree, which is composed from the Greek words theo ("God") and broma ("food"), meaning "food of the gods". The suffix '-ine' is given to alkaloids. In the case of cats the name "Theobromine" is only appropriate in that it might indeed send the cat to meet its Maker.


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