Chocolate is one of the best things in the world! But it can also be harmful in high doses. In humans, it can cause cavities and weight gain. And in some animals like cats and dogs, it can be fatal! But can chickens eat chocolate? No, they can’t. Chocolate contains both caffeine and theobromine, which can be lethal to your chicken’s health. Let’s dig deeper into the matter.

Can Chickens Eat Chocolate? (Details)

Can Chickens Eat Chocolate
Image Credit: critterridge

What is Chocolate?

Some people argue that chocolate is a vegetable because it comes from beans. Fair enough, since it’s made from the kernels of cocoa beans aka cacao seeds that grow on cacao trees. For reference, the kernel is the innermost part of a seed, which remains after removing the shell. The natural taste of this kernel is quite bitter, so it has to be processed to make it palatable.

Manufacturers harvest the seeds, dry them, clean them, roast them, and ferment them. Then they take off the shells and crush their kernels into cocoa nibs. The nibs are heated to make chocolate liquor. (No, that’s not booze.) It’s the purest solid or semi-solid form of chocolate, sometimes called cocoa mass or cocoa paste. It’s a mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.

This gets blended with milk, sugar, vegetable oils, or alkali to make chocolate variants like cocoa powder for hot chocolate, baking chocolate aka cooking chocolate, milk chocolate for candy, and white chocolate – which only has cocoa butter without cocoa solids. Cocoa butter is also used to make cosmetics and beauty products. They say it reduces wrinkles and aging.

The Origins of Chocolate

The Origins of Chocolate

Chocolate was first discovered in South America but today, it’s mostly grown in West Africa. And although chocolate comes from the seeds, you can eat cocoa fruits as well. These cocoa pods have 35 to 50 beans each. The three main types are the long, yellow Criollo, the smaller green Trinitario, and the brown bulbous Forastero, which is the commonest variant.

Criollo is a premium delicacy, but it’s prone to disease and needs a lot of attention. That’s why it’s the rarest type and few people cultivate it. Trinitario is a natural Trinidad hybrid of Forastero and Criollo. Its quality and harvest volumes are higher, but it’s also pricier. Peru and Ecuador also grow Nacional cacao trees, a rare species that was thought to be extinct.

In case you’re wondering, baking or cooking chocolate is unsweetened, with no added sugar.  Milk chocolate is blended with condensed milk or milk powder to sweeten it. Dark chocolate has a little added sugar, but it has no milk, so it’s semi-sweet or bitter chocolate. Meanwhile, baking cocoa has more fiber than drinking cocoa, and chocolate chips have less cocoa butter.

What is Theobromine?

The Latin name for the cacao tree is Theobroma Cacao. Each tree produces fleshy fruits or pods with beans or seeds inside. And as we said before, these seeds are processed and then shelled so we can access the kernel inside the shell, which is where the real gold is. The first cacao trees grew in the Amazon Rainforest. Spain exported them to Asia, Europe, and Africa.

As the name of the tree implies, cocoa trees are packed with theobromine aka xantheose. It’s an alkaloid and it’s what gives unprocessed cocoa beans that distinctive bitter taste. You can also find a little theobromine in kola nuts, yerba mate, guarana berries, and tea leaves (i.e. the leaves of the tea plant, not the brown stuff in your tea bags). Cocoa powder has the most.

100g of cocoa powder carries 2,060mg of theobromine while chocolate cakes, cookies, and toppings contain 150mg to 200mg in every 100g serving. And interestingly, when you ingest caffeine, your liver breaks down 12% of it into theobromine. Caffeine dissolves in water, so we’ll look at it later. Theobromine is slightly soluble in water, but it dissolves better in fats.

Why Theobromine is Bad for Chickens

Why Theobromine is Bad for Chickens
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Since theobromine is so fat-soluble, you’ll find a lot of it in cocoa butter. For reference, caffeine hits your bloodstream within half an hour while theobromine takes 2 to 3 hours to get fully absorbed. Once this happens, the theobromine will inhibit phosphodiesterase and adenosine receptors. And for the record, caffeine works the same way, so it’s a dual attack.

Adenosine is part of your RNA, and it regulates the rhythm of your heart. When it’s blocked, it can make your heartbeat irregular. Meanwhile, Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) transports the energy from glucose to your individual cells, nerves, muscles, etc. So theobromine can cause heartburn, trembling, headaches, sweating, skittishness, diarrhea, and dehydration.

The heart rate can either slow down or race, causing heart attacks. As for phosphodiesterase, it is an important enzyme in your lungs and heart, so inhibiting it leads to breathing problems and cardiovascular issues. Dark chocolate has more cocoa than milk chocolate, so its effects are harsher. In extreme cases, theobromine can cause seizures that look a lot like epilepsy.

What is Caffeine?

We’ve noted that caffeine breaks down into theobromine, and since chocolate has both, it’s double trouble. In fact, theobromine is sometimes used to make synthetic caffeine. But what exactly is caffeine? It’s a natural chemical found in tea, coffee, cola, and cocoa plants. It can be derived from purines, which are key components in the building blocks of RNA and DNA.

People mostly use caffeine for drowsiness. Like theobromine, it inhibits phosphodiesterase and adenosine receptors. This makes the brain release more acetylcholine, helping messages from the brain to the body travel faster. The heightened pace stimulates your system, but in small animals like chickens, this overwhelming effect can create disastrous system crashes.

We assume chocolate has less caffeine than coffee. That’s untrue, and we’ll soon look at the specifics. But it’s notable that cocoa beans were so precious that the Aztecs used them for currency. You could buy an avocado with three cocoa beans, a turkey with 100 cocoa beans, and even pay your taxes in cocoa beans. The Aztecs mostly imported this treasured resource.

Why Caffeine is Bad for Chickens

Why Caffeine is Bad for Chickens
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Excess caffeine is bad for anyone’s heart, and that’s ironic. How so? Back in the Aztec days, the god Quetzalcoatl was allegedly exiled by his fellow gods for giving humans the gift of chocolate. Also, the process of getting beans out of their pods was reminiscent of pulling out a human heart and sacrificing it. Which is essentially what we do when we chug coffee jugs!

Depending on the type of chocolate, cacao can have just as much caffeine, sometimes more. Coffee has about 40mg per 100g. Extra dark chocolate with 75% to 80% of cocoa has 80mg for every 100g, and unsweetened baking chocolate has 80.5mg per 100g. Cocoa powder has a whopping 230mg of caffeine per 100g but milk chocolate only has 20mg of caffeine per 100g.

It’s unlikely that you (or your chicken) will down 100g of ground coffee or cocoa powder at a time unless you eat an entire chocolate cake. And we’re talking 3 lbs here (1.5kg)! But any amount of caffeine increases adrenaline and cortisol levels. Your chickens will seem thirsty, restless, and anxious. This can escalate to diarrhea, seizures, and kidney failure in hours.

Why Chocolate is Bad for Chickens

Why Chocolate is Bad for Chickens
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Both caffeine and theobromine are stimulants. In humans, we use them to help us stay awake, rattle a lagging brain, focus our wandering thoughts, or raise our energy levels. We can also use them as a confidence boost. Stimulants achieve this by speeding up our brain-to-body pathways, and since animals have smaller bodies and brains, they’re easily overstimulated.

But even if they eat a smaller amount, the excess sugar in the chocolate can pile up as chicken fat. This can lead to chicken obesity, which may affect your sales by padding the slaughter weight, changing the flavor, and messing up your reputation. The extra weight might also make it hard for your chickens to walk, fly, or mate, leading to injuries and illnesses.

It doesn’t take much chocolate to hurt your chicken. A mere 1.5oz (40g) is enough to poison your bird. The chemicals in the chocolate can stop a chicken’s heart within 24 hours! And there’s no first aid for it so you’d have to call the vet and hope for the best. Try to identify what kind of chocolate they ate and how much by checking for wrappers or product packs.

Is Chocolate Bad for All Animals?

No. We’ve only studied the effect of chocolate on a few animals, so it’s not a comprehensive response. But we do know chocolate is toxic to cats, dogs, birds, and rabbits. Curiously, rats and mice can break it down in their digestive systems, so they can enjoy this tasty treat. But since their bodies are so small, stick to reasonable portions that won’t overwhelm the mice.

Unrelated, can chickens eat meat? Of course! Chickens are omnivorous, which means they enjoy everything from nectar-filled flowers to lizards and fish. It’s not unusual for free-range chickens to feast on snakes, frogs, and mice since they’re pretty good hunters. They should stay away from toads though, since their skin is typically poisonous to deter their predators.

Also, chickens are like pigs in their feeding habits – they’ll eat just about anything. You can safely give them cooked kitchen scraps, though they shouldn’t be too sweet, salty, or fatty. Try not to give them uncooked eggs since this might make them eat their own eggs. Also, here’s a touch of trivia – the Mayans preferred warm chocolate drinks while the Aztecs chilled theirs.

Other Foods that Chickens Can’t Eat

Can chickens eat chocolate? No. The theobromine and caffeine in this delectable sweet can cause serious health effects in chickens, cats, dogs, and other pets. But chickens should also avoid uncooked beans, green potatoes, green tomatoes, grapes, soda, or mushrooms. Do you know any other foods that are unhealthy for poultry? Tell us in the comments section below! 

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