Some types of candy are poisonous to cats, and most have no value in terms of taste or nutrition. Cats have very different metabolism to us and sharing this type of food is not good for them. In 2005 scientists discovered that cats can not taste sweet substances (1) so fortunately they do not normally seek out or enjoy sugary treats.
Chocolate is poisonous to cats. All chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine. These chemicals are called methylxanthines. The disease caused depends on the amount of these substances in the chocolate eaten.
Cats weigh so little that even white chocolate can sometimes cause disease, despite the low levels of methylxanthines. Cocoa content determines the amount of toxins. Dark chocolate and cooking chocolate are often very high in cocoa. Cats can suffer symptoms of toxicity from milk chocolate too.
Symptoms are usually seen 6-12 hours after the chocolate is eaten. Initially, gastrointestinal symptoms are seen with vomiting and diarrhoea. The cat may appear restless as the methylxanthines affect the nervous system. They may become restless, drink excessively and breathe fast. Muscle tremors may be seen, this may progress to seizures and coma. Body temperature can rise to very high levels because of the tremor and seizure. Chocolate poisoning can be fatal in cats.
If you suspect your cat has eaten chocolate or he or she is showing the symptoms above, contact your vet.
When possible, take the chocolate wrapper and any information on the sort of chocolate, when the cat ate it and how much they ate. The toxins can be reduced by inducing vomiting or flushing the stomach under sedation or anaesthesia.
Activated charcoal is used to bind any remaining toxin, inactivating it. Intravenous fluid therapy may be used to reduce the amount of toxin in the body, effectively flushing toxin out. The type of treatment used will depend on the symptoms your cat is showing it is not safe to induce vomiting in a cat with seizures.
There have been anecdotal reports of raisin and grape toxicity in cats. Ingestion of raisins can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and may progress to kidney failure.
High sugar candies
Candy canes, boiled sweets, chews or gums contain more sugar than cats can metabolise. Cats are obligate carnivores. Although they can eat small amounts of carbohydrates, they cannot break the substances down effectively to utilise the energy.
Excess sugar (glucose) is discarded in their urine(2). High glucose levels in the blood result in raised insulin levels which can lead to diabetes. In humans, high levels of glucose and insulin in the blood cause significant disease.
Cats, like humans, have a large population of bacteria (microbiome) in their intestines. These bacteria help to process food and a healthy population keep the cat healthy. High sugar levels reaching these bacteria provide an unusual energy source and can disrupt the microbiome causing diarrhoea.
High sugar products can also lead to dental disease.
Empty calories also lead to obesity. Fat cats have joint and mobility problems because of the extra weight. They are also more likely to develop diabetes.
Cats can be drawn to the taste of mint so they should be kept away from high sugar mints.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free products such as sweets, chewing gum, mints and dental products. This product causes a severe drop in blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. However, toxicity has not been reported in the cat and a 2018 study showed that it only causes blood glucose changes in very high doses (3).
Small hard sweets can be become lodged in the back of the throat when eaten whole. The airway may become obstructed. Your cat will paw at their mouth, as well as cough, retch and drool. Choking is an emergency. Attempting to dislodge the sweet manually may push it further down. You may also be badly bitten. Take your cat to the vet immediately, keep their head down and body raised to attempt to dislodge the hazard. Keep the car cool and well ventilated as you travel.
Sweet wrappers can be an interesting texture so cats may play with them and chew them. These wrappers can cause an obstruction in the intestines. If your cat has eaten sweet wrappers, observe them closely. An obstruction will cause vomiting and a loss of appetite. If you suspect an obstruction visit your vet promptly so your cat can be examined. Investigation and surgical treatment may be necessary to remove the obstruction.
Candy should be kept away from cats and children should be dissuaded from sharing their sugary treats with their pets. Although much candy is not poisonous to cats, it offers no benefits without the sugar hit or metabolism to use it for energy. Commercially produced cat treats are a much safer offering for your furry family member.
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- Xia L, Weihua L, Hong W, Jie C, Kenji M, Liquan H, Bachmanov AA, Reed, DR, Legrand -Defretin V, Beauchamp GK and Brand JG. Pseuogenisation of a sweet receptor gene accounts for cats’ indifference toward sugar. (2005) Plos Genetics
- Kienzle, E. Blood Sugar levels and renal sugar excretion after the intake of high carbohydrate diets in cats. (1994) The Journal of Nutrition. Vol 124(12):2563-2567