While many cockatoos are quite picky when it comes to eating what’s good for them (like pellet food), many seem to purposefully seek out things that aren’t good for them – like chocolate.
Chocolate is toxic to all birds, including cockatoos. It contains both theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to all birds.
Symptoms will depend on how much your bird ate and its body size. Some larger birds are completely okay after eating a large amount of chocolate. Smaller birds like cockatoos typically have worse symptoms, which may potentially include death.
Both theobromine and caffeine cause hyperactivity. They can upset your bird’s stomach, causing vomiting and diarrhea. At higher doses, increased heart rate, tremors, and seizures are possible. Some birds experience the symptoms to the point of death.
Usually, it’s the seizures that kill the bird. But that doesn’t mean that your bird is okay if they aren’t having seizures. You should always seek out veterinary attention if your bird has consumed chocolate. This food is one of the most toxic to birds, as it contains two troublesome chemicals.
One of the toxic chemicals in chocolate is theobromine. It is a type of methylxanthine, which is a component of all cocoa beans.
All chocolate contains these beans, and therefore, all chocolate contains theobromine. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be chocolate. The main component of chocolate is theobromine.
This compound is also found in tea leaves – though to a lesser extent.
Theobromine works in a similar way to caffeine. It makes you feel awake and alert. In small amounts, this is perfectly fine for people. We’re pretty large and can handle quite substantial doses of theobromine – so much so that it’d be nearly impossible for us to overdose on it from eating chocolate alone.
Cockatoos are different, though. They are much smaller than people, so pushing them over the edge doesn’t take a lot. Even a few small nibbles of chocolate can cause a high heart rate and similar complications.
Different birds will react to this substance differently – just like people.
Caffeine is the famous component of the coffee bean, but it is also found in chocolate in much smaller amounts.
Most people won’t even feel the effect of the caffeine in chocolate. That’s how little it contains.
However, we are much larger than the average bird. Cockatoos will quickly feel the effects of caffeine in chocolate. Typically, the caffeine in a little bit of chocolate won’t be enough to harm them.
The problem arises when the caffeine is combined with theobromine – like it is in chocolate. Both of these chemicals work similarly. They can increase their heart rate and cause hyperactivity.
When you put these substances together, they compound. The bird is much more likely to experience adverse side effects when both are circulating through their system.
This fact makes chocolate extra dangerous. Not only does it contain one harmful chemical, but it contains two that do the same thing – causing them to compound.
How Much Chocolate Can a Cockatoo Eat?
Preferably none. It takes very little chocolate for a cockatoo to experience adverse effects. Birds, in general, seem to be very sensitive to theobromine and caffeine.
One study described a parrot that was found dead after eating a bunch of dark chocolate. The bird’s body was collected, and an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death. It was found that the bird had ingested about 250 mg/kg of theobromine, 20 mg/kg of caffeine, and 3 mg/kg of theophylline from a dark chocolate crop.
These doses are about what you would find in two grams of dark chocolate. For reference, a square of Hersey’s chocolate is usually about 12 grams. The bird ate what would be the equivalent of a sixth of a Hersey’s square – not much at all.
Cockatoos are even smaller than this bird was. Therefore, it will take much less for them to be affected adversely. Even a nibble or two can result in hyperactivity and an increased heart rate. Any more, and the bird is seriously getting into dangerous territory.
Therefore, we do not recommend birds are fed any chocolate at all.
How Is Chocolate Toxicity in Cockatoos Treated?
When a bird overeats chocolate, its treatment can vary. The amount the bird ate and their current symptoms will determine the treatment.
Like with most acute conditions, fast treatment is imperative to save your bird. If you wait until the bird is experiencing seizures, it is likely too late. Each seizure can result in severe brain damage and the bird’s death. One is too many.
Therefore, you should rush to a local vet as soon as you know your cockatoo has consumed chocolate.
Sadly, treatment for theobromine and caffeine toxicity is limited. There is no “cure” for this condition. Typically, treatment involves keeping the bird alive until the chemicals are out of its system.
Sometimes, vets may induce vomiting. This method reduces the amount of chocolate your bird digests, which will lower the chemicals in their bloodstream. However, this only works if it is done shortly after ingestion. Don’t try this yourself without explicit guidance from a vet.
Symptoms typically don’t appear until 10 hours after ingestion. Therefore, if you wait for symptoms, it will likely be too late to induce vomiting.
Some vets may administer activated charcoal. The effectiveness of this treatment is variable and somewhat controversial. Activated charcoal in birds is not well-documented, though it is a standard procedure in some other pets.
What Kinds of Chocolate are Toxic to Cockatoos?
Not all types of chocolate contain identical amounts of theobromine and caffeine. All of them are toxic if your bird eats enough. However, some require smaller amounts of consumption than others for a cockatoo to reach toxic levels.
White chocolate contains little actual chocolate. Therefore, it takes a lot for your cockatoo to be harmed. On the other hand, chocolate used in baking contains a lot of theobromine and caffeine – leading to toxicity very quickly.
Here is a short graph containing some of the most common types of chocolate:
|Compound||Theobromine (mg/oz)||Caffeine (mg/oz)|
|Baker’s unsweetened chocolate||393||47|
|Dry cocoa powder||737||70|
You should consider theobromine to be toxic at around 100 mg/kg, according to St. Francis Animal Hospital. However, symptoms usually occur closer to 20 mg/kg. For some animals, 20 mg/kg is plenty for severe side effects.
That puts the toxic dosage for cockatoos at around 50 mg of theobromine. Symptoms may occur at as little as 10 mg. That’s about 4 grams of milk chocolate.
Therefore, you shouldn’t play around with any amount of chocolate consumption. As you can see, most chocolates contain more than enough to be toxic to cockatoos reasonably quickly. A nibble or two is enough to hurt a bird.
This isn’t a matter of “a little won’t hurt them” because it absolutely will.
How to Prevent Chocolate Toxicity
The only way to prevent chocolate toxicity in cockatoos is to prevent them from eating chocolate. If your bird nibbles on a piece of chocolate, it can potentially cause severe symptoms. One bite of baker’s chocolate is sure to cause severe symptoms and even death.
All chocolate should be put up and away from your bird. To be safe, you shouldn’t eat chocolate while handling your bird. Don’t take them in rooms where baking with chocolate is happening (though they shouldn’t be in a kitchen while you’re cooking, anyway).
It is often not enough to stop your bird once they have nibbled on some chocolate. Sometimes, it only takes a nibble for them to experience hyperactivity and even seizures. You have to prevent it from occurring at all.
Chocolate is acutely toxic to cockatoos – and birds of all sorts. It can cause death in meager amounts, especially if it’s dark chocolate or baker’s chocolate. One bite of dry cocoa powder is more than enough to kill your average cockatoo.
It’s so toxic because it contains two troublesome compounds: theobromine and caffeine. These two ingredients do the same things. They’re stimulants. Therefore, when your bird consumes both, the effects multiply.
We don’t recommend letting your bird eat any amount of chocolate – even white chocolate. We don’t recommend allowing your bird in a room where chocolate is present. Any time your bird is around, all chocolate should be put away.
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Featured Image Credit: Security, Pixabay