Chocolate And Caffeine Toxicity In Dogs And Cats

Willie needs NO caffeine to wind him up.


To a chocoholic like me, there is no such thing as too much.

For our pets, on the other hand, even a little can be too much.

Caffeine, the magic substance that gets our day going in the morning, is concentrated in some food products. Its cousin, theobromine, is also present in chocolate. Caffeine and theobromine are two related compounds in the methylxanthine family of purine nucleotides.

Regular readers know I’m not a fan of giving “people food” to pets, and avoiding such indiscretions is the best way to avoid chocolate toxicity.

However, we all know sometimes our pets get into food we didn’t intend for them to eat.

Although we are going to rate various foods according to their risk for poisoning, do not interpret this information as encouragement to feed such items to your pets.

Fortunately, the most attractive forms of chocolate also have the lowest concentration of caffeine and theobromine. Pastries such as chocolate cake and muffins have a texture and sweet flavor pets enjoy. Dogs are far more likely to eat such items, as cats are usually much more discriminating. Cats’ sensitivity to these toxins is about the same, however.

So, what makes one form of chocolate more toxic than another? The concentration of the active ingredient.

Milk chocolate has less caffeine and theobromine per ounce than other forms. However, ingestion of cakes, cookies and candies, as well as other “people foods,” can cause serious stomach and intestinal upset. For breeds and individuals which are susceptible to pancreatitis, the high fat content of such culinary delights can bring on a painful and expensive trip to the veterinarian.

Concentration of theobromine can be approximated by the color of individual types of chocolate. Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate, for example, have the highest levels. Semi-sweet chocolate and gourmet dark chocolates contain similarly-dangerous levels of theobromine. Milk chocolate the lowest.

Chocolate is not the only source of toxic methylxanthines, however. Some pets may be attracted to your coffee, especially if cream and sugar have been generously added.

Coffee grounds can be an especially dangerous source of caffeine, as the toxin is especially concentrated.

Ditto for tea grounds and tea bags.

Would a dog actually eat coffee grounds? All by themselves, probably not. Inadvertently mixed with some tasty garbage, definitely!

Speaking of coffee, imagine the double whammy of dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans, a popular candy. While the human body has a certain (though not unlimited!) tolerance for caffeine and theobromine, canine and feline bodies don’t.

What are the signs of caffeine and theobromine intoxication? At low doses you may notice only agitation and irritability. At higher doses uncontrollable tremors occur. At the highest doses seizures and death may ensue.

Caffeine and chocolate are nothing to play with. Don’t give your pets some just to see them “amped up.” Not only could it be deadly, it’s a horrible way to go.

Consider the case a colleague saw a while back.

Two college-age kids brought a sweet little Labrador puppy in, drowning in saliva and seizing uncontrollably. “We had taken some No-Doz tablets to study for our final exams and didn’t pay attention to where we set the box. Foozy must have taken the package from the coffee table. We think he ate the rest of the box, cardboard, tablets and all. At first he was funny, jumping around and startled by little sounds. But, it wasn’t long until he got like this, and we came straight over with him.”

Hours of intensive treatment failed to save the puppy.

It was a hard-learned lesson.

If your pet has ingested chocolate, coffee or other sources of caffeine or theobromine, but is asymptomatic , give your pet’s doctor a call and ask him what should be done.

If he is already symptomatic, follow these emergency procedures, as treatment needs to begin immediately.

See you next week, Dr. Randolph.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.