When pet owners think about what to feed to their pets, chocolate is a food that is divisive and it can be difficult to find the truth about whether it’s good for them or not.
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So, Can Your Pet Rats Eat Chocolate?
The answer in yes, but in small amounts.
Chocolate isn’t toxic to rats like it is to cats and dogs, but it still isn’t a very good treat to feed them regularly.
Rats won’t die if they nibble a piece of chocolate, nor will they suffer any adverse health effects if they steal a chunk of chocolate chip cookie. This is because the main ingredient that can cause health issues in other pets when they eat chocolate (theobromine) isn’t much of a problem for rats at all.
In fact, dark chocolate can actually be beneficial to rats’ health, as it can be used as a bronchodilator (helps to open up the airway and help them breathe) when they have respiratory issues.
Chocolate isn’t a treat we recommend however, as it contains high levels of sugar and fat which can contribute to obesity, something rats unfortunately can be prone to and which can cause a whole host of other health problems.
Chocolate toxicity has been tested and observed in rats, and the only effect seen from very high doses is sterility in bucks (male rats).
If your rat comes sniffing up to your plate of chocolate chip cookies and manages to scamper away with one, you shouldn’t be worried. A small amount of chocolate (particularly milk chocolate or white chocolate, two kinds most found in cookies) won’t hurt your rat and they’ll probably enjoy it as a novel flavour.
Cookies themselves aren’t bad either, however both cookies and chocolate contain high levels of fat and sugar that aren’t good for rats, and not much else. An occasional nibble of a cookie is not harmful, it just doesn’t offer them much more than taste.
An alternative to chocolate cookies is homemade cookies, full of nutritionally dense foods that your rats will love, and that provide lots of key elements and vitamins to nourish as well as satisfy.
Can Rats Eat Dark Chocolate?
As mentioned earlier in the article, theobromine is the substance that’s found in chocolate which causes health issues in some animals. It’s known as a nervous system stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant and when paired with the small amount of caffeine also found in chocolate, has a stimulant effect on the heart.
The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. Because of the muscle relaxing effects of theobromine, dark chocolate can be useful in the treatment of respiratory distress in rats, as only a small amount of chocolate is needed.
As stated previously, we wouldn’t recommend dark chocolate as a treat because of the fat and sugar content (whilst lower than milk chocolate, it’s still present) and the lack of other nutrients, but it does have its use as a bronchodilator.
Amines are compounds found naturally in many different foods including chocolate. In theory these substances may build up in the body and cause symptoms akin to those seen in allergic reactions (migraine being one seen in humans).
Foods such as smoked foods (fish, meat) and pickled foods, cheese and dark chocolate are high in amines, however those foods are not usually included as a regular addition to rats’ diets. Foods such as banana, avocado or grapes are also high in amines and are included much more regularly although the quantities they eat are not likely to cause any adverse effects.
Rats are very good at rejecting foods that make them feel unwell or that could harm them as they cannot vomit, which helps them avoid poisons. If those adverse effects were seen in your furry friend, they would most likely start avoiding the offending food all together.
Chocolate also contains higher amounts of oxalates compared to some other foods so that is another reason why it shouldn’t be fed often.
While generally safe in small amounts, oxalates can cause deficiencies (particularly calcium) in high amounts, but this usually isn’t a problem in balanced and varied diets.
Oxalic acid binds with certain other minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and sodium) to form Oxalate crystals. These crystals can contribute to the formation of kidney stones, and can irritate the body’s tissues.
It’s generally recommended to avoid diets with high amounts of oxalate-rich foods and to moderate your rat’s consumption of them (except in rats with kidney issues, they should avoid oxalate-rich foods).
The information in this section is taken from the works of knowledgeable Alison Campbell and her published series on rat diets and nutrition.
Healthy Alternatives to Chocolate
When considering giving your rat chocolate, firstly think about the many healthier (and just as delicious) alternatives available before making your decision.
As rats can get obese, healthy treats are the best treats to give due to their tasty nature and wide variety. The occasional treat is an excellent way to bond with your rat, as well as providing vital enrichment to their lives.
A few examples of treats used as an alternative to chocolate are:
- Nuts in shells (e.g. macadamia)
- Cooked bones like chicken or ribs
- Frozen peas (create an “apple bobbing” game by putting them in a shallow dish with an inch or two of water in the bottom)
- Cooked eggs
There is also the option to create your own healthy treats for your rats, which is not only fun and rewarding for you as their owner, but an excellent alternative to chocolate for your furry friend.
A homemade biscuit made of scraps of cooked meat, cooked vegetables, rice or millet, an egg and some flour is a tasty, healthy addition to their diet (and may dissuade them from nibbling on a piece of your chocolate chip cookie!).
All in all, chocolate is ok to give in small amounts to your rats. But there are better, more healthy and more enjoyable treats out there for them to eat instead.