Food & Care

Why is chocolate toxic to pets?

There are not many humans around that don’t love a bit (or a lot) of chocolate here and there, but why is it that we can enjoy the oh-so-delicious treat when it’s actually quite toxic to many of our furry friends?

The culprit is a naughty little molecule called theobromine. Theobromine occurs naturally in some plants, most notably in cacao… the key ingredient of chocolate.

Chemically speaking, the “ine” at the end of its name groups it with other alkaloids like caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and strychnine… absolutely none of which are pet-friendly if there’s any doubt!

Don’t get us wrong, we definitely don’t have a grudge against all alkaloids. There are some super-helpful ones we use in medicine all the time including morphine, quinine and ephedrine. But theobromine is just plain dangerous to our furry friends.

Theobromine Molecule

Just like its cousin caffeine, theobromine incites some nice feelings in humans and puts some pep in our step. But because our pets are smaller and have different metabolisms, even a small amount can be poisonous to them.

You know that feeling you get when you have a big deadline and you slam down coffee after coffee and cola after cola in an attempt to stay up all night? Your mind is fuzzy, your heart is racing, you can’t keep still and you think you might be sick? That’s not the looming deadline, that’s the toxicity of caffeine making itself known. It’s similar to what it feels like when a pet ingests even a small amount of theobromine in chocolate. Worst case is that those symptoms possibly lead to hyperactivity, tremors, seizures and death.

While the concentration of theobromine varies depending on the type of chocolate (baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain higher levels compared to milk chocolate), it’s recommended you refrain from giving any types to your pets, even in small doses.

However, pets quite often help themselves so if you suspect they’ve eaten any chocolate, please call us as soon as possible so we can assess them quickly and start any necessary treatment as early as possible – it could save their life.

Santa’s Naughty and Nice lists for your pets this Christmas

Whilst the team at Maleny Vets love your pets almost as much as you do, we don’t want to see them this festive season (in an emergency situation, that is). Please, please, please remember that animals have different internal make-ups to humans, so many of the foods that we choose to indulge in (or over-indulge in) at this time of year can be incredibly harmful if consumed by your pets. Vets’ orders – keep any and all leftovers for yourself!

Below we’ve compiled a list of the most common offenders when it comes to ‘good intentions gone bad’ at Christmas. In the spirit of the season, we’ve divided suggestions into Santa’s ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ lists…

Naughty List


Loaded with sodium-based nitrates and nitrites, the salt content in ham is way too much for most pets to handle. Too much sodium/salt can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, urination, fluid retention and lethargy.


Chocolate contains theobromine which incites similar effects to caffeine – probably why we love it so much. But because your pets are smaller and have different metabolisms to humans, even a small amount can be poisonous to your pet and lead to nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate, hyperactivity and possibly even tremors, seizures and death.

Fatty foods

Fatty foods containing butter, oils, meat drippings/grease/fat etc can cause a condition called pancreatitis in your pets. This can be incredibly painful for the poor little guys, and in some cases can result in organ damage, internal bleeding and death.

Prawn shells

They’re smelly and tasty and oh so appealing to your pets, but these little suckers are a common choking hazard and break apart after being ingested, creating sharp little shards that can cause big trouble in your pets’ intestines.

Cooked bones

Just like prawn shells, cooked bones have a tendency to splinter into shards that pierce mouths, throats and intestines, creating all sorts of painful and/or dangerous problems for your pet.


Humans may love these tasty flavour bombs but these two and other members of the Allium family of plants can be toxic to your pets. Symptoms of toxicity (which may take several days to appear) can include vomiting and diarrhea, anemia, breathlessness/rapid breathing, lethargy, abdominal pain, discoloured urine and an elevated heart rate.


A great summer snack for humans, grapes and raisins are another no-no for cats and dogs. Aside from being an obvious choking hazard, all colours of grapes contain toxic compounds that can cause kidney failure in your pets.


Lots of fun and excitement outdoors can lead to serious burns and injuries if your pets aren’t kept secured around barbecues and fires – don’t let those furbabies play anywhere near heat and flames!


A dishonourable mention goes to the forgotten Christmas villain… batteries. Batteries – especially those ‘snack-size’ button fellas – can cause choking, intestinal blockages or corrosive internal ulcers and burns leading to permanent organ damage and death.

Nice List

Gift your pets tick prevention

During the summer months, it is more important than ever to ensure your pets’ tick prevention is up-to-date. This will ensure they have the best chance to be protected from these nasty critters. With the severity of tick numbers in our region, daily checks of your pets is also highly recommended.

Maintain your pets’ normal diet

Just because we humans tend to get a little snack-crazy at this time of year, doesn’t mean our furbabies need to. Do your pets the kindest favour and only feed them their regluar diets, leaving out all the extra snacks and treats that we’re tempted to share with them.

Give your pets lots of cuddles

If you’re lucky enough to have some time off, just spend it playing with your pets and give them lots of extra cuddles. Remember, they’re a huge part of our world but we are their whole world and time with us is the thing they treasure the most!

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