When I was growing up, I had a part Siamese cat named Maverick. She was tiny, grey, fierce, and smart – for a cat anyway.
One of her favorite things to do was mooch food from the humans and while most of it she wouldn’t get (she had a sensitive stomach and we had to keep things like fish far away from her), she would get to lick up the leftover bowls of chocolate ice cream after we had it.
And here’s where we knew how smart she was: she knew how many bowls there were on the table (based on how many people there were) and she would count to make sure she got all the bowls.
We tried to short her a bowl once to test her and she glared daggers at us until we gave it back to her.
Even having more or fewer people at the table didn’t throw her: two, four, six – if her bowls didn’t match the number of humans, no one was leaving the table!
Pretty neat story and it showed just how smart cats can be. But were we humans smart to give her chocolate ice cream?
After all, dogs certainly cannot have chocolate and it’s really the best for humans either. So, what about cats? Can cats have chocolate ice cream?
Short answer: Maverick was probably really lucky (or had a weird digestive system) because in most cases, chocolate can make cats feel pretty sick, ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to being fatal, depending on how much chocolate was ingested. (Also, the chocolate ice cream we had didn’t actually much chocolate in it!)
Why Can’t Cats Have Chocolate Ice Cream?
There are three ingredients in ice cream and chocolate ice cream, in particular, that makes it a terrible thing to give to a cat:
- Theobromine and caffeine
The theobromine in particular is what causes the toxicity for cats. (And for the exact same reason as dogs). Theobromine is toxic in levels as small as one to two hundred milligrams per kilogram of cat.
One ounce of cocoa powder contains eight hundred milligrams which is enough to kill most cats.
The caffeine content is also hugely problematic as cats cannot really digest or work with caffeine and it can cause vomiting, increased heart rate, and even seizures.
Ice cream also has milk in it and many adult cats are lactose intolerant. This alone probably won’t be fatal, but it will be very uncomfortable for the cat and awful for you come litter box cleaning time.
Lactose intolerance varies wildly from cat to cat though; much like humans, some cats love and can handle milk, others can tolerate only small amounts and still, others will be nastily sick from it.
There’s no real way of knowing which way the wind will blow until it happens, so best to err on the side of not letting your cat have milk.
And finally, ice cream of course has sugar in it, and cats aren’t really built to handle sugar. It can easily burden a cat’s system and put them at a higher risk of diabetes and becoming overweight.
Cats also can’t taste anything sweet, so it’s a pointless treat. And artificial sweeteners are far more dangerous – if you think your cat ate something that has a lot of artificial sweeteners in it, you should call your vet right away.
They can’t digest artificial sweeteners at all, and it can cause vomiting or other dangerous health hazards.
All in all, Maverick was really fortunate to not get sick!
Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity
There are many symptoms of chocolate toxicity in cats and they will range from cat to cat and how much chocolate was ingested. Mild symptoms include:
- Vomiting. Gross for you, but good for the cat as it’s one of the best ways to quickly get the chocolate out
- Rapid breathing
In the most severe cases, unfortunately, too much chocolate is fatal.
What Do I Do If My Cat Did Eat Chocolate?
You didn’t mean to give the cat your ice cream bowl, but being a cat, it got there anyway! If you discover your feline friend licking the bowl, the first thing to do is, of course, take it away.
Then call your vet. Depending on how long it’s been, what kind of chocolate it was, and other factors, the vet may recommend bringing your cat in to induce vomiting and to monitor for dehydration, check their blood, liver, and heart, and recommend a bland diet.
Most cats recover fine within a day or two of eating too much chocolate as long as they get caught quickly and are given the chance to get it out of them.
Alternatives to Ice Cream
Cats still enjoy cold treats, mostly for the texture and sometimes for the challenge of trying to figure out how to eat it or chase it around. There are some great alternatives you can use instead of ice cream for safe treats:
- Ice cubes. Plain ice cubes are simply fascinating to cats to play with, lick, and shove around, plus they help keep a cat hydrated.
- Frozen/cold wet food. Regular wet food can be chilled or even frozen to give your cat something different to do with the food they already eat
- Cat ice cream. Yup, ice cream for cats exist! Only they tend to come in flavors like fish or chicken.
- Frozen bone broth
- Ice cubes with suspended kibble or catnip. Gives them a challenge and a reward!
Honestly, most cats probably don’t care too much if they are eating cold or frozen food or not, but it does make for an interesting treat that they can have occasionally (other than plain ice cubes which, if it makes your cat happy, is of course perfectly safe to give out daily).
Even if your cat is smart enough to count the bowls and doesn’t seem to have had an adverse reaction in the past, it’s not a good idea to let them have chocolate ice cream.
There are too many ingredients that range from simply unhealthy to downright toxic. Save the ice cream for yourself and let your cat eat food that is right for it: meat, water, and their own cat treats!