If you have owned chickens for any length of time, you probably already know that they will eat pretty much anything and everything. They will even eat things that aren’t edible, or things that they shouldn’t.
This can make for problems when people give chickens scraps and treats from their pantry or table. Though highly omnivorous, some things that people eat are quite toxic to chickens.
How about chocolate? Can chickens eat chocolate?
No! Chocolate is hazardous for chickens, and may be lethal. Caffeine and theobromine, which are both found in cocoa, can cause serious or fatal health problems in chickens. At best, chocolate is high in sugar, which can also lead to health problems for chickens. You should never feed chocolate or products containing cocoa to chickens under any circumstances.
No matter how cute or funny you think it might be to give your chickens candy or other treats that contain chocolate, it may prove to be a death sentence for them.
We’ll talk more about the dangers associated with it in the rest of this article.
The Dangers of Chocolate for Chickens
I hope it is apparent by now, but you should never, ever feed your chickens chocolate, or any other product containing cocoa. Cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine, which are both highly toxic to chickens.
It takes very little chocolate to do serious harm to a chicken. Just a few nibbles of chocolate could make your chicken very sick, or even kill it.
The other danger associated with chocolate is that it is high in sugar. Chickens should not eat large quantities of sugar at any rate.
A mass intake of sugar can cause kidney and metabolic issues in short order, and a long term sugary diet will lead to weight gain, obesity and other health problems like fatty liver syndrome.
That assumes that the caffeine or theobromine poisoning don’t kill your bird, first.
Symptoms of Caffeine and Theobromine Poisoning in Chickens
Caffeine is a stimulant, and can cause increased heart rate, restlessness, and tremors. The biology of a chicken is not designed to process caffeine, and as a result, chickens that consume caffeine can suffer from short- and long-term health problems.
In addition, caffeine can interfere with the absorption of nutrient in various bodily processes, leading to a host of wide ranging issues.
|100g Dark Chocolate||Amount|
|Total lipid (fat)||42.6 g|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||45.9 g|
|– Fiber, total dietary||10.9 g|
|– Sugars, total including NLEA||24 g|
|Calcium, Ca||73 mg|
|Iron, Fe||11.9 mg|
|Magnesium, Mg||228 mg|
|Phosphorus, P||308 mg|
|Potassium, K||715 mg|
|Sodium, Na||20 mg|
|Zinc, Zn||3.31 mg|
|Copper, Cu||1.77 mg|
|Manganese, Mn||1.95 mg|
|Selenium, Se||6.8 µg|
|Pantothenic acid||0.418 mg|
|Vitamin B-6||0.038 mg|
|Vitamin B-12||0.28 µg|
|Vitamin A, RAE||2 µg|
|Carotene, beta||19 µg|
Chickens that consume small doses of caffeine on a regular basis will likely suffer from fertility problems or even egg deformities.
As a result, it is important to avoid giving caffeine to chickens in any way, and that definitely includes chocolate.
Theobromine is a naturally occurring compound found in cocoa beans and chocolate. While theobromine is safe for humans, it is highly toxic to many other animals, including chickens.
The symptoms of theobromine poisoning in chickens include increased heart rate, arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea and tremors.
In severe cases or from large doses, theobromine poisoning can cause seizures, cardiac arrest, and death.
Even if you don’t think that your chickens got into any actual chocolate, be aware that there are other products that may contain cocoa or chocolate. For example, baked goods and breads.
The ingestion of chocolate should be considered a medical emergency for your birds.
If you suspect that your chicken has consumed chocolate or cocoa, contact a veterinarian at once for advice on how to provide treatment.
How Much Chocolate is Lethal for Chickens?
It is difficult to give any kind of reliable baseline for the lethality of chocolate.
Differences in breed genetics and widely varying levels of the dangerous substances (caffeine and theobromine) in chocolate brands or other cocoa-containing goods confuse the issue.
In fact, to this day you’ll find some misguided owners who claim to give their birds chocolate periodically with no ill-effects.
However, it must be restated that, despite different breeds and individual chickens showing different sensitivities to caffeine and theobromine, you must ensure your flock is never, ever fed chocolate or cocoa.
Between the two substances, the one we are most worried about in chocolate is theobromine. Theobromine is far more likely to gravely injure a chicken or kill it outright.
The amount of theobromine that is considered lethal varies depending on which source you consult, but it is generally agreed upon that any product with a cacao content of 30% or higher is extremely dangerous.
Considering this information, dark chocolate or higher-grade cocoa contains a much higher concentration and is significantly more likely to cause serious harm.
No chocolate is good or even okay for your flock, but dark or very dark chocolates will kill your birds with a much smaller dose compared to milk chocolate. Dark chocolates might contain upwards of 50%, 60% or even 80% plus cocoa.
If any chicken were to ingest even a small amount of such chocolate it would probably be lights out for the poor thing!
What Should You Do if Your Chickens are Fed Chocolate?
If you know that any of your chickens have been fed chocolate, or suspect they have gotten into chocolate or any product containing cocoa, call your vet at once and follow their advice.
Based on their recommendation, if you don’t need to rush the chicken in immediately you’ll need to observe for symptoms for at least a full 24 hours, and probably longer.
As detailed above, keep an eye out for any changes in behavior, seizure, signs of distress or lack of responsiveness that could indicate the theobromine affecting your bird. If you notice any such symptoms, take your bird to the vet right away.
In the meantime, keep plenty of easily accessible, clean, fresh water available for the affected bird to drink. Let them drink as much as they want, but don’t try to force them.
Aside from observation and being ready to respond by taking the affected chicken to the vet, there isn’t really anything else you can do for them.
You should never try to get the chicken to regurgitate by any means or dose them with anything that could act as an antidote to the toxin.
Regardless of whether or not your chicken displays any serious symptoms from ingesting chocolate, long term health effects will probably be present.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.