Chocolate can be incredibly toxic to animals, with National Pet Month commencing on April 2nd, it's important to remind ourselves about the dos and don'ts when it comes to keeping our much loved pets healthy. Remember, chocolate can have ill effects on animals, which is why you should keep your chocolate out of the way of your furry friends.
Although many people are aware that dogs can't eat chocolate, it is actually a very common intolerance for most mammals. From ferrets to pigs, cats to poultry, accidental ingestion of large amounts of the cocoa-based product could result in chocolate toxicity, which can be fatal.
Why can't they eat chocolate?
Cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine, two drugs that humans metabolise (process in the body) easily. However, many animals are very inefficient at this, so theobromine and caffeine accumulate in the animal's body, which in time trigger symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to muscle tremors, seizures or a heart attack.
The severity of the reaction will depend on both the size of the animal and the quantity of chocolate consumed, but it could take between 12 and 36 hours for the theobromine and caffeine to accumulate to a level that causes external symptoms. If you realise your pet has ingested chocolate, the best thing to do is to take it to your vet immediately, where they will induce vomiting and get rid of most of the toxic substance.
Which animals are worst affected?
Chocolate poisoning has only been extensively studied in dogs, cats, rats and mice, but many species are susceptible. MSD Veterinary Manual states that it occurs more commonly in dogs, due to their 'indiscriminate eating habits.' Cats are much more sensitive to chocolate than dogs, but as they cannot taste sweetness, it is unlikely that they would be tempted to eat it.
According to a study carried out by the Veterinary Institute of Massey University in New Zealand, horses, pigs, chickens and dogs are particularly sensitive. Chocolate poisoning is rare in the wild, but they note that chocolate has been used to control the growth of coyote populations in the US, where they are often considered a pest.
Rats and mice, however, can metabolise theobromine about as efficiently as humans, but due to their small size, what seems like a little piece of chocolate is a large amount for them, so it's safer to keep chocolate away from their little hands!
What chocolate is worse for animals to eat?
Cocoa is the ingredient in chocolate that holds theobromine, so the higher the quantity of cocoa, the more dangerous it is. Dark chocolate and cooking chocolate would be the most harmful, but larger quantities of milk chocolate would also have the same effect.
On the other hand, white chocolate has no cocoa in it - hence its white colour - so it shouldn't cause theobromine poisoning. There may be small amounts present, as the cocoa butter could still contain residual cocoa pieces depending on the purification process it goes through. Don't get confused by labelling though; our Hotel Chocolat white chocolate contains 36% cocoa solids, but this refers to the cocoa butter, not the cocoa itself. In any case, as white chocolate is high in fats and sugars it is still not a good idea to feed it to your pet; try apple or carrot slices instead!
Even though chocolate is a delicious treat for humans, this National Pet Month, make sure you keep your chocolate out of the way of your pets' reach to keep them safe.