Squirrels and Chocolates: Are Chocolates Good For Squirrels?

Chocolate is a tasty treat no one can resist. However, we know that most pets and chocolate don’t mix. In fact, in 2018, chocolate was number four on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s (APCC) list of top pet toxins for the year. So, the questions are, can squirrels eat chocolate? What are the effects of chocolate on squirrels? What are the signs of chocolate poisoning in squirrels?

If you’re looking for detailed answers, here’s an article to start with.

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Can Squirrels Eat Chocolates?

Chocolate is indeed a delicious treat and squirrels will steal it from you if they get a chance. Chocolate contains an alkaloid called Theobromine which is harmful to most mammals. The level of toxicity varies according to the chocolate type, the quantity consumed, and the animal and its digestive system.

If eaten in large quantities, squirrels will end up having a lot of theobromine in their system and it could be fatal to them.

To prevent this from happening, it’s best not to give chocolates to squirrels. Just stick with safer foods such as nuts, berries, fruits, and sunflower seeds.

Why Chocolate Is Dangerous For Squirrels and Other Animals?

LD50 (Lethal Dose 50%) is one of the many ways to measure the acute toxicity of a substance. An LC50 is defined as the lethal concentration required to kill 50% of the population.

LD50 of theobromine in humans is 1000 mg/kg body mass (way too toxic in large amounts!). If we consider that it’s the same for rodents such as squirrels, it means that 50% of all 500g squirrels would die when 0.5g theobromine gets inside their system.

Milk chocolate contains as little as 1.5-2.0g/kg theobromine, but dark chocolate can contain 15g/kg or more theobromine. Now consider squirrels eating dark chocolate bars regularly and the amount of theobromine that gets into their system gradually.

If eaten in large quantities, chocolates can cause theobromine poisoning in animals. The effects include trembling, hyperactivity, seizure, tremors, diarrhea, abnormal heartbeats, and even death.

Some may advocate ‘moderation’ but it isn’t safe for any animal.

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Is Chocolate Toxic to Squirrels?

Yes, chocolate is toxic to squirrels but the degree of toxicity varies widely depending on the types of squirrels, their body weight, and metabolism.

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, the dried seeds of the cacao tree. A lot of processing and refining happens before the beans become the chocolate, we savor. Plus, squirrels cannot metabolize theobromine, as well as caffeine present in chocolate as fast and effective as humans. This makes them more sensitive to ‘chocolate poisoning’.

There is no ‘antidote’ for chocolate poisoning in rodents. The best treatments are induced vomiting and the administration of activated charcoal.

Theobromine and caffeine in chocolate may not be the only concern for the pet squirrels. Xylitol, a sugar substitute, is occasionally used in chocolates as a cavity-fighting agent. Xylitol can lower blood sugar and cause liver injury. Also, squirrels may be sensitive to the amount of sugar and fat in chocolate, and consuming more chocolates may lead to pancreatic inflammation.

Can Squirrels Eat Dark Chocolate?

As we have seen earlier chocolate isn’t a squirrel-friendly food, but the amount of chocolate and type ingested are important factors to consider because the concentration of caffeine and theobromine can vary.

In general, the darker and bitter the chocolate, the higher the concentration of caffeine and theobromine, the more dangerous it is to squirrels. The estimated amounts of theobromine present in each type of chocolate in milligrams per ounce are enlisted below:

  • Dark chocolate: 135 mg/oz.
  • Milk chocolate: 44-60 mg/oz.
  • White chocolate: 0.25 mg/oz.
photo-eastern-gray-squirrel-sciurus-carolinensis
Source DepositPhotos

Can Squirrels Eat Chocolate Covered Almonds?

Dark chocolates and baking chocolates are used to coat toasted almonds and peanuts. Since both types of chocolate pose the greatest risk of toxicity, you should never give squirrel chocolate covered almonds, peanuts, or any other types of nut.

Is White Chocolate Bad For Them?

There are two parts to this answer.

Technically white chocolate isn’t really chocolate. It’s just a confection made with sugar, cocoa butter, milk products, and vanilla. It doesn’t contain cocoa solids that give chocolate its bitter flavor and dark color. That means the number of toxic alkaloids in white chocolate is negligible compared to milk or dark chocolates. In that respect, you can feed pet squirrels white chocolate without it being toxic to them.

On the other hand, white chocolate often contains additives as palm oil and other fillers, plus tons of sweeteners or sugar – none of which are good for squirrels and their wellness.

  • The high-fat content of white chocolate can cause similar symptoms to chocolate poisoning such as vomiting and diarrhea. Also, it increases the risk of developing pancreatitis.
  • High sugar in white chocolate can lead to health issues including diabetes, weight gain, urinary tract infections, and more.
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So, while squirrels aren’t necessarily in danger of theobromine poisoning, you should call your vet if your pet eats white chocolate in case of other possible reactions.

We recommend not feeding squirrels white chocolate at all. For a sweet treat, give them thin slices of apple instead.

Can Squirrels Eat Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Chocolate chip cookies can spell trouble for squirrels. The main ingredients in chocolate chip cookies – dark chocolate chips and sugar – are not so healthy for animals including squirrels. Margarine, a non-dairy butter substitute is often used in cookie mix. It contains an unhealthy combination of saturated and trans fats, which have been associated with chronic health conditions including heart diseases.

According to chocolate toxicity meter, a 16g chocolate chip cookie contains about 20.3mg theobromine and 2.6mg caffeine. Meaning, you shouldn’t feed pets chocolate chip cookies. However, considering the fact that squirrels are opportunistic feeders, they may eat chocolate chip cookies by chance. Call the vet immediately if your pet squirrel shows any discomfort.

Can Squirrels Eat Chocolate Cake?

Chocolate cake is a yummy dessert. But squirrels shouldn’t eat it.

Chocolate cakes have a considerable amount of theobromine from cocoa powder, chocolate chips, or dark chocolate in the cake mix. It also has unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and fact. So feeding or accidental consumption of chocolate cake may result in a stomach upset or, even worse, severe symptoms like seizures, and rapid breathing.

If Chocolate is Bad For Squirrels Then What to Feed Them?

Yes, chocolate is poisonous to squirrels and could make them very unwell. So, what to feed them? In general, squirrels will adapt to the conditions and food available to them so they can eat almost anything.

High-calcium vegetables (5 thumb-sized portions a day): Arugula, beet greens, chicory, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, collard greens, kale, mustard spinach, radishes, squash, turnip greens, and watercress. The critters also love to eat asparagus, artichokes, avocado, sweet peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Try avoiding dried veggies, fresh corn, garlic, sprouts, and yams.

Animal Protein: The little rodents love eating live or dried mealworms, crickets, and moths. These insects are one way to add proteins and vitamins to squirrels’ diet. Other options are cheese and yogurt (1tsp. per day).

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Fruits: Apple, apricot, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, and melons can be given sparingly. Too many sugary fruits will cause diarrhea. One or two handheld pieces twice o thrice a week will your pet sugars and carbs needed to satisfy the dietary requirement.

Note: Pits and seeds can be toxic for squirrels. Also, avoid dates and dried fruits such as plums and prunes.

Nuts/Seeds: Nuts still in their shells is the best food for squirrels. Acorns, roasted pumpkin seeds, and almonds are the healthiest, followed by hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts. It’s better to avoid dried corn, pine nuts, cashews, etc as they can cause calcium loss.

Formulated pellets and supplements: Many squirrels, especially flying squirrels need calcium and vitamin D3. If they aren’t getting enough from the natural foods, try squirrel pellets and supplements.

Bones: Though squirrels love a vegetarian diet, many species would enjoy animal bones or deer antlers. Wild squirrels are particularly fond of animal bones, which are a great source of calcium.

Conclusion: Is chocolate safe for squirrels?

The dark confection isn’t safe for squirrels; however, the hazard of chocolate to squirrels depends on the type of chocolate, the amount consumed, and the animal’s size. In large enough amounts, chocolate can kill squirrels.

Dry cocoa powder has a higher concentration of methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine) than, say, milk chocolate. Feeding a tiny piece, however, is not going to kill them, but an entire dark chocolate bar might.

In short, while feeding squirrels in your backyards, it’s best to avoid chocolates, sugary treats, and heavily-processed human foods.

Also, you’ll want to avoid feeding squirrels in public because they may depend overly on humans to feed them.

References:

https://www.vetzone.com.au/PocketPets/Articles/Article/tabid/1966/ArticleID/1390/Chocolate-Toxicity-In-Animals.aspx#.X0FWLugzbIU

https://www.msdvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

https://www.aspca.org/news/just-announcing-top-10-toxins-2018

Sonia Madaan

Written by Sonia Madaan

Sonia Madaan is a writer and founding editor of science education blog EarthEclipse. Her passion for science education drove her to start EarthEclipse with the sole objective of finding and sharing fun and interesting science facts. She loves writing on topics related to space, environment, chemistry, biology, geology and geography. When she is not writing, she loves watching sci-fi movies on Netflix.