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Is Coffee Bad for Pets?

The one thing we love more than coffee. Don't give your dog or cat coffee!

Is coffee bad for your pets? One-word answer: yes. Okay, that won't do. Let's go into a bit more depth. We take for granted that we shouldn't feed our dogs and cats certain things. Onions, grapes, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, milk -- the list goes on and on. Many people aren't sure about coffee, especially since in some cases, their pets seem to love the stuff every bit as much as their owners do. One food in the abbreviated list above should give you some idea as to why pets and coffee go together like oil and water. For humans, a bit of chocolate or even quite a bit of coffee can be a great thing. We benefit from the thousand or so compounds that give our coffee that wonderful flavor and help get us going in the morning (and again in the afternoon, and sometimes again in the evening). Chocolate and coffee are both bad for dogs and cats for the same reason that chocolate is: their much smaller bodies can't handle the caffeine. If you're adding milk and sugar, those things aren't doing them any favors either; the former causes weight gain, while the latter is no help since most dogs and cats are lactose intolerant.

The chemical culprit in this case is caffeine, a chemical present in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks (theobromine, which is chemically similar to caffeine, is found in chocolate). The more caffeine or theobromine that's ingested per body weight, the more pronounced the symptoms. Therefore, a cup of weak tea would have less of an effect than an energy drink or a square of dark unsweetened baking chocolate; as you might expect, the effects on a housecat or a Chihuahua would be more pronounced even with a smaller volume of caffeine or theobromine than the same amount would have on a Labrador or a Bull Mastiff. Ingestion in small amounts can lead to hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, restlessness, and heart arrhythmia. In higher doses, tremors, seizures, hyperthermia, and death are all possible. If your dog or cat accidentally ingests a small amount of coffee, tea, or chocolate (they lick the puddle off the lid of a to-go cup, find a stray ground or two on the floor or countertop, or lick a bit of chocolate off a toddler's face), it's worth keeping an eye on your pet but not likely cause for worry. In the event that they ingest a larger amount (especially if it's a smaller animal), it's advised to induce vomiting and seek immediate medical help. In the meantime, for your own sanity and your critters' well-being, be sure not to leave tea, chocolate, or coffee within easy reach. Resources: ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-4ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435). $65.00 per case, billed to caller's credit card. Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661, $49 per case. A data sheet from the Pet Poison Helpline, which catalogs several other types of foods and drinks you should probably keep away from your pets: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/caffeine/