You get home from a long day of work to see that, while you were away, your beloved pet cockatoo, Boris, has found its way into the commemorative Forrest Gump box of chocolates that your weird uncle “saw on eBay and felt like had your name written all over it.”
Immediately questions start flying through your brain: “Can birds eat chocolate?” “What am I supposed to do about this?” “Why do I still talk to that side of the family?” etc.
The above situation is actually pretty common (okay, maybe not the uncle bit, but the rest of it). Birds of all kinds have a sweet tooth, and chocolate is sweet, so birds like chocolate.
But is it safe for birds to consume chocolate?
The short answer is no, it is not safe for birds to consume chocolate. Though consuming a small amount of chocolate is not a death sentence for most birds, it does not take much before it can become toxic and dangerous for a bird to consume.
Why Is It Unsafe For Birds To Consume Chocolate?
The main ingredient in chocolate is cacao, and cacao contains certain chemicals that are harmful to birds to consume. Chief among these harmful chemicals is Theobromine.
Surprisingly, Theobromine is NOT a pre-workout powder marketed to college frat guys. No, Theobromine is the chemical that gives chocolate its bitterness.
Chocolates that are more bitter, such as baking chocolate or dark chocolate, contain higher levels of this chemical than sweeter chocolates such as milk chocolate.
If a bird consumes too much Theobromine by eating chocolate, the resulting side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, seizures, and even cardiac arrest leading to death.
Theobromine is a vasodilator, which is a fancy medical word meaning Theobromine widens blood vessels. Wider blood vessels cause the heart to have to work harder to move blood around the body, leading to an increased heart rate and strain on the heart.
If the strain on the heart is enough, it can fail, leading to death.
Birds are not alone in their sensitivity to this chemical. This is also the chemical that causes chocolate to be toxic to dogs, cats, and even bears.
Theobromine can even be toxic to humans as well, though the human digestive system is better equipped to process the chemical. It would take over 7,000 Hershey’s Kisses (that’s nearly 71 pounds) consumed over a twelve-hour period for a human to reach dangerously toxic levels of Theobromine, but hey, it is technically possible.
What to Do If My Bird Consumes Chocolate?
If you do have a bird who finds its way into your secret stash of M&Ms, the first step is don’t panic. Chocolate poisoning that leads to death is uncommon, and there are remedies that can help your bird if you find yourself in that situation.
The next step is to identify the amount and type of chocolate consumed. As mentioned above, sweeter chocolates have lower levels of chemicals that are dangerous to birds, so more can be consumed before it becomes dangerous.
If you see that your bird consumed a small amount of chocolate by nibbling on a cookie, stealing a few grains of your cocoa pebbles, or they stole an M&M or two, they are probably going to be okay.
If this is the case, make sure to monitor them closely over the next 48 hours and look out for symptoms such as vomiting or hyperactivity which would point to an increased heart rate.
If you begin to notice these symptoms, call an avian vet or animal poison control for next steps.
If you see that your bird has consumed a large amount of chocolate, take your bird to an emergency vet as soon as you can.
Vets can treat your bird with an antihistamine that can counter the damaging effects of chocolate poisoning if they are able to treat your bird promptly.
Safe Treats To Give Your Bird
Though it is dangerous for your bird to consume chocolate, there are plenty of treats that are safe for them to consume. Knowing these safe alternatives is a great way to prevent them from eating something that is dangerous for them to consume.
One tasty treat that your bird will enjoy is popcorn!
Popped or unpopped, your bird is sure to enjoy a handful of popcorn. You can even put a movie on in the background to make the whole experience more authentic.
Oatmeal is another treat to feed your bird. Oatmeal is highly nutritious and a great way to include fiber, protein, and carbohydrates in your bird’s diet.
Lastly, fruit is a great way to satisfy your bird’s sweet tooth. Birds are able to eat any fruit that we can also eat, and can also eat certain fruits that are toxic for humans to consume.
Small berries, pieces of an apple, or slices of a banana, are great options for any bird owner looking to add variety to their bird’s diet. Plus, seeds that are consumed by birds while eating fruit can take root and grow into new fruit plants when passed by the bird!
The best way to make sure that your bird is safe from chocolate toxicity is prevention. If you keep chocolate in the house, store it in a location your bird is not able to access.
You can store your chocolate in another room, behind a closed door, or in a drawer. Unless your bird is an evolutionary marvel who has developed prehensile thumbs and bird-super-strength, these measures will be enough to make sure your bird does not find its way into your Snickers stash.
Carefully choose healthy treats to give your bird. This can include seeds, fruit, and even cheese!
Train your bird to not steal treats. Birds are incredibly intelligent and can be trained to only accept treats that are given under certain circumstances.
If your bird does consume chocolate, don’t panic. Try to figure out roughly how much chocolate they consumed and then react accordingly.