Theobromine Toxicity in Parrots

Keep chocolate out of your inquisitive parrot's reach.
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She wants more than a cracker. Polly pleads with eyes if not antics when you nibble on chocolate. Resist the temptation to share. Theobromine, a substance most commonly found in chocolate, is toxic to pets. Never feed it to your feathered friends.


Theobromine is a type of methylxanthine, an alkaloid compound found in the seeds of the cacao tree, commonly referred to as cocoa beans. Because these beans make chocolate, all chocolate contains theobromine. This alkaloid is also found in kola nuts and tea leaves, although in lesser amounts. Sometimes referred to as xantheose, theobromine is the major component of chocolate and cocoa. Dark chocolate contains the highest amounts of this chemical, milk chocolates contain less and white chocolates even less. Theobromine, in the same family as caffeine, is safe for people to eat but potentially toxic to your parrot, and other household animals, if she ingests even a little of it.

Toxicity to Parrots

When it comes to pets, the phrase "death by chocolate" is one to take as a serious warning rather than a figurative one. Unlike people, parrots and other pets like cats and dogs cannot properly metabolize theobromine in chocolate or any other foods containing it. According to an article published in June 2007 issue of the "New Zealand Veterinary Journal," an inquisitive kea parrot ingested around 0.7 ounce of dark chocolate and soon after passed away. The chocolate was estimated to contain around 250 mg/kg of theobromine, which proved to be toxic to him. It shows that even small amounts of theobromine-containing chocolate -- less than an ounce -- can be deadly to our feathered friends.

Why Toxic?

Theobromine is a type of stimulant, vasodilator and diuretic. It builds up in your parrot's blood, according to the Stonebridge Animal Hospital, because birds don't metabolize it as quickly as humans do. Once ingested, it can harm her heart, kidneys and central nervous system, the Safehaven Parrot Refuge warns. If your curious feathered friend manages to get a taste of chocolate, she'll exhibit signs of chocolate poisoning including hyperactive behavior, vomiting, loose or dark-colored droppings, heart arrhythmia and seizures, according to Blake Hawley, DVM, on the Old World Aviaries website. Without veterinary intervention, depending on the amount and type of chocolate your parrot ingests, she may die. Keep in mind that dark or baking chocolate contains nine to 10 times the amount of theobromine that milk chocolate, so a smaller amount of it is still more toxic to your parrot.

Emergency Care

If you suspect that your inquisitive parrot has eaten any amount of chocolate, or anything else that contains cocoa or kola nuts, get Polly to your avian vet right away for treatment. In lieu of that, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for advice. With supportive care, such as induced vomiting, administration of activated charcoal or intravenous fluids, your parrot may be able to recover from eating theobromine, according to the Fenton Veterinary Practice of Wales. Her survival depends on how soon after she’s eaten theobromine you realize the fact and get her proper care. Keep in mind that symptoms typically appear within 10 hours of ingestion.

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