Chocolate is high on the list of banned human foods for parrots, primarily due to the alkaloid theobromine found in cocoa. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it’ll contain.
The signs of chocolate toxicity in parrots include vomiting and diarrhea, a racing heart rate, hyperactivity and restlessness, muscular weakness and tremors, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
If a parrot consumes chocolate, even white chocolate (which is lower in theobromine), consider it a medical emergency. A vet must minimize the side effects before it’s too late.
Can Parrots Eat Chocolate?
Chocolate is a toxin to most household pets, and parrots are no exception.
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are highly toxic to birds. The ingestion of even the smallest amount of chocolate can adversely impact a parrot’s health.
Theobromine is the biggest risk and is more prominent in dark chocolate than milk chocolate.
As per the Encyclopedia of Analytical Science, theobromine is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in cocoa beans, which is why it’s so prominent in chocolate.
The taste of theobromine is bitter, which explains why it’s so prominent in dark chocolate.
This ingredient is also responsible for some of the side effects of chocolate when eaten excessively, including headaches, muscular tremors, and irregular temperature moderation.
Humans pass theobromine through the body quickly, which is why it isn’t considered a toxin. Animals, including parrots, process the alkaline extremely slowly, which is why it’s life-threatening.
How Much Chocolate is Toxic to Parrots?
Any chocolate consumption is potentially life-threatening for parrots.
However, the golden rule is the more theobromine is consumed, the more danger it poses, which means that darker chocolate is the greatest health hazard.
100 g of chocolate is enough to kill a large parrot, with smaller birds succumbing to much less. This table outlines how much theobromine is found in 1 ounce (about 1 square) of various types of chocolate:
|Chocolate chips||138 mg|
|Dark chocolate (45-59% cocoa)||140 mg|
|Dark chocolate (60-69% cocoa)||179 mg|
|Dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)||228 mg|
|Milk chocolate||44 mg|
|Pure cocoa powder||142 mg|
|Unsweetened baking chocolate (90% cocoa or higher)||376 mg|
|White chocolate||0.25 mg|
No chocolate is safe for parrots, so never offer white chocolate as a treat.
What Happens if Parrots Eat Chocolate?
As per the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, the consumption of chocolate can kill parrots. It won’t immediately die after eating chocolate, as the toxin will work through its body gradually.
This means you may have time to save the parrot’s life if it eats chocolate.
The impact of the toxicity depends on a range of factors, including how much chocolate the parrot ate, which type of chocolate it consumed, and the size and weight of the bird.
If you suspect the parrot may have eaten chocolate, check for these warning signs of toxicity:
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Muscular tremors.
- High heart rate.
- Restlessness and hyperactivity.
- Seizures and loss of consciousness.
If a parrot displays these symptoms, it suggests that theobromine has adversely affected the internal organs and nervous system. Don’t wait for the parrot’s digestive tract to pass the chocolate.
Unfortunately, curious parrots have a habit of accessing foods they shouldn’t consume. As intelligent as parrots are, they don’t always behave in ways that benefit their welfare.
Let’s review the different kinds of chocolate-based foodstuffs a parrot may encounter:
A parrot helping itself to a candy bar will likely be among your bird’s highest states of emergency. A parrot may consume an entire bar of chocolate before you have time to intervene.
As per the above table, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it’ll be for parrots. A bar of white candy may have a limited impact, but pure cooking chocolate can kill a parrot in under 2 hours.
Never leave candy bars anywhere so a parrot can access them, and take the same precautions with smaller chocolate-based candies, like M&Ms.
Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Brownies, and Chocolate Muffins
A chocolate cake contains cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and even chocolate icing.
Cakes also contain numerous other harmful ingredients that’ll damage the health of a parrot. Sugar, salt, fat, artificial coloring, and preservatives.
Chocolate Biscuits or Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chips contain enough theobromine to cause problems. This means that cookies and biscuits, especially if coated with an additional layer of chocolate, can cause theobromine toxicity.
Biscuits and cookies are high in sugar, which can cause parrots to gain weight.
Some cereals are safe for parrots, but chocolate-based cereals aren’t among them. If you want to offer cereal to your bird as a snack, avoid Oreo Os or Cocoa Krispies.
These cereals won’t contain as much theobromine as a pure chocolate product, but they’ll contain enough to risk a parrot’s health and well-being.
Chocolate Ice Cream and Chocolate Milk
Milk and ice cream contain lactose, a form of sugar. Many birds, including parrots, can’t process this sugar effectively as they lack an enzyme known as lactase.
Parrots aren’t completely lactose intolerant, but consuming dairy may result in digestive issues.
Naturally, chocolate-flavored dairy products will also contain some theobromine. Not as much as a pure chocolate product, but enough to cause harm.
Avoid letting a parrot drink hot chocolate, too. In addition to the usual risks of theobromine and lactose, a parrot may burn itself when drinking a hot beverage.
How is Chocolate Toxicity Treated?
Treatment should be considered a medical emergency if a parrot has eaten chocolate. A vet must remove the theobromine from the parrot’s body before it causes irreversible damage.
A vet may induce vomiting or bind the theobromine using charcoal.
This resolves the immediate concern, although the parrot may need supportive care. Intravenous fluids or electrolytes will resolve dehydration, while oxygen will stabilize breathing.
If a parrot consumes chocolate, it’ll likely be kept overnight for observation.
If the parrot shows no ill effects of the theobromine after treatment, it’ll be returned to your care. It may require prescription medication to control ongoing side effects.
Chocolate can be fatal to parrots, no matter how much they eat and what kind of chocolate is consumed. Theobromine is a stimulant, vasodilator, and diuretic, so it must be kept away from birds.