Chocolate is a sweet, sometimes irresistible treat. You can have it plain in the form of a chocolate bar or in a variety of confectioneries and sweet desserts. Have you ever wondered what is in a regular bar of chocolate? What is it really made of?
A bar of chocolate contains some or all of these basic ingredients: cocoa solids, milk, cocoa butter and sugar. The 3 subclasses of chocolate are milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate. The amount of these basic ingredients defines the subclasses.
Can you share your sweet treat with you feathered friend? The answer is no. Chocolate is poisonous to parrots and should never be fed to them. If your bird is allowed to fly about the house, make sure you never leave any chocolate where he can access it. Like us, parrots enjoy chocolate but it is toxic for them.
Why Is Chocolate Toxic For Parrots?
The toxicity culprit in chocolate is an alkaloid called theobromine. It is contained in the seeds of the cacao tree which are commonly referred to as cocoa beans. It is these beans which are used to make chocolate so virtually all chocolate contains theobromine. Birds as well as other pets like cats and dogs cannot metabolize theobromine. This alkaloid is also present in tea leaves, soft drinks and kola nuts, though in much smaller quantities.
Theobromine is a stimulant, diuretic and vasodilator. Your bird cannot metabolize it so it accumulates in his blood and can harm his heart, kidneys and cause problems in his central nervous system.
In human beings, for whom chocolate is mostly harmless, theobromine is metabolized in the liver. The process takes place quite quickly as theobromine is digested within 2 to 3 hours of ingestion. In animals such as dogs and cats which are prone to chocolate poisoning, theobromine is digested but at a much slower rate. This is why as little as 50 grams of chocolate can be fatal for a small dog. It is not clear if the metabolism of theobromine takes place slowly or doesn’t take place at all.
How Much Is Too Much?
According to veterinarians, it is true that very small amounts of chocolate will not kill a parrot. That said, the general rule is that your bird should not have any chocolate, no matter how little.
Is there actual evidence of death of a parrot due to chocolate? Yes. An article published in the June 2007 edition of the New Zealand Veterinary Journal told of a kea parrot which died after consuming dark chocolate. He was found dead outside a hotel kitchen in Mt Cook village. Wildlife pathologist Brett Gartell opened up the bird’s stomach and found it full of chocolate. It is believed that the parrot consumed at least 20 grams of dark chocolate, stolen from a rubbish bin. The chocolate contained about 250mg/kg of theobromine.
This same bird was previously involved in behavioral tests related to problem solving ability, proving that he was in perfect health before he came across this fatal treat. From this we can confirm that even small amounts of theobromine in chocolate can be fatal for parrots.
A similar case of chocolate poisoning was reported in 2005 by Cole and Murray. Here an African Grey parrot died barely 24 hours after eating a chocolate donut. The bird died even after receiving veterinary treatment. A closer look at the bird’s body revealed hepatic, pulmonary and renal congestion as the cause of death.
Are Some Types Of Chocolate Safe?
The sweeter the chocolate is the less cocoa and theobromine it contains, and the higher the sugar content. Dark chocolate contains highest amounts of theobromine. Dark unsweetened chocolate contains 15 to 16 mg of theobromine per gram. Milk chocolate contains 1 to 2 mg of the alkaloid per gram.
Here are some typical chocolate products likely to be in your home and details of just how much theobromine they contain per 100 grams.
- Cocoa powder – 2634mg
- Baking chocolate (unsweetened) – 1297mg
- Dark chocolate (70% – 85% cocoa) – 802mg
- Chocolate wafers – 354mg
- Hot cocoa – 68mg
- Chocolate chips (semi sweet) – 486mg
- Chocolate candies – 426mg
This is not to say that milk chocolate or any chocolate product is safe for parrots. No chocolate is exempt.
Signs of Chocolate Toxicity
If your bird somehow manages to get his claws on some of your chocolate, he will display some or all these signs.
- Loose and dark colored droppings
- Hyperactive behavior
- Heart arrhythmia
The intensity of symptoms depends on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Since dark chocolate contains a lot more theobromine than milk chocolate, a small piece of dark chocolate could have worse effects than a larger piece of milk chocolate.
Emergency Care: Symptoms of chocolate toxicity typically appear about 10 hours after ingestion. If you suspect that your parrot has ingested any amount of chocolate, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Alternatively, call the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center for advice on what to do next.
After confirming that the bird has indeed ingested chocolate, the veterinarian will probably induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal. Intravenous fluids may also be used to get your bird to full recovery. He may take a few days to recover fully. If too much chocolate was ingested, he may not survive it. The chances of survival and recovery depend on how much was ingested and how soon you are able to get him proper care.
Other Reasons Why Chocolate Is Bad For Parrots
Chocolate contains caffeine
There are small amounts of caffeine in chocolate. Exact amounts vary depending on the type of chocolate but all chocolate has some amount of it. Caffeine features high on the list of toxic foods for birds. Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and soda are extremely dangerous for your bird. They are associated with increased heart rate and hyperactivity. When ingested in larger amounts, caffeine could cause cardiac malfunctions, arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.
If you though chocolate was bad for your bird, think of the combined effects of both chocolate and caffeine.
High fat content
Why are we concerned about fat content in a parrot’s diet? Parrots are actually quite prone to obesity. Veterinarians say obesity is the most common health problem they encounter in parrots. It is more common in companion parrots living in cages than those living in outdoor aviaries.
Obesity basically boils down to a situation where energy intake is more than energy expenditure in a bird. A flying parrot for instance, consumes 20 times more energy than a captive one who stands still on a perch all day. The latter is more likely to become obese.
Taking the 3 types of chocolate, white chocolate contains the most amount of fat standing at 32 grams per 100 grams. It has 539 calories. Dark chocolate contains 31 grams of fat per 100 grams of chocolate and has 56 calories. Milk chocolate has 30 grams of fat per 100 grams and has 535 calories.
If you are counting calories to prevent your parrot from becoming overweight, chocolate is one treat which should be very far from him.
High sugar content
Processed sugar is not good for you and neither is it for your bird. Dark chocolate contains 48 grams of sugar in every 100 grams. Milk chocolate contains 52 grams in 100 grams of chocolate and white chocolate contains a whopping 59 grams in 100 grams of chocolate. That is more than half.
Apart from the risk of obesity from the calorie-dense food, sugar is bad for parrots for a few reasons. Firstly, processed sugar could weaken the bird’s immune system. White blood cells are negatively affected by large quantities of sugar in the blood. Secondly, it could cause digestive problems. Too much sugar in the blood makes the digestive system overwork to prevent it from being absorbed into the bloodstream too quickly. The endocrine system is also overworked because the pancreas has to work harder to produce sufficient insulin. A third reason is the bird’s brain biochemistry. It gets imbalanced by excess sugar, causing nervousness and stress.
The bottom line cannot be over emphasized. No matter how much you love your bird and want to share every delicious treat you have with him, chocolate is out of the question. Chocolate is toxic to parrots and can, in severe cases, cause death.
An alkaloid called theobromine contained in chocolate is a stimulant, diuretic and vasodilator. If you really want to give your bird a treat, let him have a slice of ripe banana, watermelon or a juicy orange. Keep the chocolate for yourself.
That said, it is important to note that excess chocolate is also poisonous for humans, only that it would take ingestion of a whole lot of it. An average adult would have to gobble down about 50 kilograms of chocolate in one sitting to experience chocolate poisoning.