While chickens should primarily live off of commercial poultry feed, many chicken keepers like to vary their chickens’ diet by offering snacks and treats in the form of human foods. Chickens will try to eat almost anything, so it’s important to be certain that the foods offered are safe and healthy. Chocolate is a delicious and popular treat, but can chickens enjoy these tasty sweets? No, chickens should never be fed chocolate or chocolate-containing foods. Eating chocolate is not only unhealthy for chickens but toxic and potentially fatal.
Why Chocolate Is Dangerous for Chickens
Chocolate contains two specific compounds that are toxic to chickens: theobromine and caffeine. Each of these compounds individually causes dangerous health conditions that can be fatal to chickens. The combination of the two in chocolate form is potentially devastating.
Theobromine is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in cocoa beans. It is a stimulant, known to be beneficial to human health. However, theobromine affects animals much differently than it does humans. Chickens are smaller than humans, so they can’t handle the same amounts of theobromine that we can. Additionally, it’s suspected that chickens’ bodies don’t process theobromine in the same way as the human body, leading to potentially fatal health concerns.
Caffeine is a familiar substance to most of us. Many humans consider it essential for day-to-day function. However, even a small amount of caffeine is dangerous for chickens. Caffeine is both a stimulant as well as a natural diuretic, a compound that increases the amount of water expelled from the body. Both of these functions may cause harmful or fatal health problems in chickens.
How Eating Chocolate May Harm Chickens (and What to Do About It)
Eating chocolate may cause a variety of medical issues for chickens. it’s hard to predict how much chocolate your chicken needs to consume before serious health issues start to occur. The concentration of cocoa varies depending on what type of chocolate or chocolate-containing product is eaten. Also, some chickens may be more sensitive than others to the toxic elements of chocolate.
If your chicken does eat chocolate, you will likely start to see concerning signs fairly quickly, usually within 6-12 hours. The early signs of chocolate poisoning include diarrhea, increased thirst, and restlessness. These initial signs may progress to more serious issues like kidney failure, seizures, and heart rate or rhythm disruption. These more serious issues can ultimately be fatal to your chicken.
Even if your chicken avoids the more serious health concerns of chocolate ingestion, the high fat and sugar content of this food is still unhealthy for them. For example, white chocolate actually isn’t made with cocoa, so caffeine and theobromine aren’t a concern, but it does contain a lot of fat and sugar. Eating white chocolate may not be immediately toxic to chickens but it can cause long-term issues such as obesity.
If you are concerned that your chicken may have eaten chocolate, it is important to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Try to have the packaging or ingredient list of the chocolate product on hand when you talk to the vet. Your veterinarian can give you the best information about what to do to help your chickens if they eat chocolate.
Other Foods to Avoid Feeding Chickens (and a Few That You Can)
Besides chocolate, there are several other foods that chickens should never be fed. These foods are either unhealthy or, like chocolate, potentially toxic. A few of these foods to avoid are listed here:
Fortunately, there are many human foods that chickens can and do safely enjoy. Many of these foods are not only tasty but provide healthful benefits to chickens. A few suggestions for safe treat options are listed here:
If you’re looking for more options, here is a more comprehensive list of foods that chickens can enjoy.
For humans, chocolate is a delicious and widely consumed sweet treat. For chickens, chocolate is unhealthy at best and potentially fatal at worst. Don’t take any chances and keep all chocolate-containing products away from your chickens. And if your chickens do happen to consume chocolate, make sure to consult your veterinarian right away.
Featured Image Credit: jackmac34, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.