Pet Connection Q&A: Chocolate is rarely a hazard to finicky cats

12/18/2012 12:00 AM

12/17/2012 5:11 PM

Is chocolate poisoning a problem for cats, or just dogs? Our cat occasionally sniffs the candy bowl but doesn't seem interested.

Yes, chocolate as well as goodies sweetened with xylitol are toxic to cats, but veterinarians don't see as many cases of these substances poisoning cats as we do with dogs. That's because dogs are far more likely to eat sweets than cats are.

People crave sweetness in cakes, candies, cookies and sodas. But the taste buds of a cat are incapable of detecting, appreciating or triggering a craving for foods we recognize as "sweet."

As obligate carnivores – meaning they need meat protein to survive – cats don't need to have much to do with sweets. It's unclear whether the ancestors of cats had the ability to detect sweetness and lost it or if cats never developed a "sweet tooth" because they didn't need it.

Humans eat a much more varied diet, and our taste buds reflect that – we have nearly 10,000 on our tongues. No such variety for cats, who'd be happy to stick with small prey animals and need fewer than 500 taste buds to figure what's good on the menu.

No doubt their limited abilities in this regard factor into well-known finickiness of cats. While having a cat who turns up his nose at what you offer can sometimes be frustrating, in the case of chocolate and other household hazards, the discriminating palate of the cat is good thing indeed.

But just in case your cat is a more adventurous eater, be sure to keep the sweets out of reach.

The buzz

Cats are built to go where others can't

Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle. That's if those bodies are sleek, that is. A cat's whiskers – super-sensitive specialized hairs – spread roughly as wide as a cat does. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can lead some corpulent cats into sticky situations.

Studies have consistently shown that animals are good for our mental well-being and our physical health. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of people polled by the American Animal Hospital Association said they believed their pet provided them with some personal health benefits, from lower blood pressure to higher levels of physical activity.

– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

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