A reader wrote to me about a text read in a book referring to the feeding of parrots in the wild, which, by its lack of precision, suggested that the cocoa tree and its pods were not not toxic to parrots !!!
Here is the extract:
” The Brazilians give the name of ‘mange-cacao’ to the Amazons, because they delight in the pods of the cocoa tree. “
A harmless sentence, but very insidious if interpreted out of context …
Let’s set the record straight
The cocoa tree theobrina cacao ( which means “food of the gods”) is native to South America, it is a crop of the tropics. Cocoa is cultivated for its beans contained in large pods growing directly on the trunk and branches of the tree. Each pod contains about a third of its weight in beans surrounded by a white pulp. This pulp and the beans are extracted from the pod and left to ferment. The fermented and dried beans are then processed in chocolate factories, where they are first roasted to induce the development of the desired flavor and aroma. After cooling, the beans are crushed and the hulls removed by winnowing. The cocoa beans are ground to obtain the cocoa mass or chocolate liquor, from which the butter will be extracted by pressing.
So much for the little story … let’s get down to business now.
You should know that the leaves and pods of the cocoa tree are very toxic to birds, dogs, cats and… humans. The active ingredients are xanthic bases ( theobromine, caffeine and theophylline ) which are powerful stimulants and highly toxic alkaloids in certain concentrations ( irritability, agitation, increased heart rate, etc. ). They are also powerful tonic cardiacs and bronchodilators ( dilates the bronchi ) which are used sparingly in the treatment of asthma.
The smaller the animal, the faster the lethal dose is reached ( hepatic and cardiac failure ). The cocoa beans once processed (cocoa powder or butter ) become concentrates of theobromine, caffeine and theophylline, unlike the pod taken directly from the tree which contains few of these alkaloids, but still enough to cause harm considerable to the bird, if swallowed in large quantities.
chocolate dark chocolate (Bakers)
hot chocolate cookie (6 oz cup)
instant cocoa cocoa
|Theobromine mg / oz|
|Caffeine mg / oz|
So it would be wrong to believe that the toxicity of cocoa in parrots is only a small subject that one could afford to take lightly.
So, in their natural habitat, animals know for granted what is good and what is not for them and they also know by instruction and imitation how to counter the toxic effects of certain foods which they ingest. This information is passed from generation to generation. The best example of this is the parrots in Manu Park in Peru who will gorge themselves on clay after consuming inedible or downright poisonous plants. Even humans know they can trust the skills of these animals when it comes to poisoning. The natives learned through bird watching how to make clay potions after consuming the succulent sweet fruit of the cocoa tree.
Symptoms of cocoa poisoning
The ingredients in chocolate ( theobromine, caffeine, theophylline ) are very strong alkaloids which can cause cardiac or respiratory arrest soon after ingestion, depending on the amount ingested. The clinical signs of poisoning are: prostration, regurgitation, diarrhea, convulsion and death.
Actions to take with your parrot in case of cocoa poisoning
The circumstances of poisoning arise from the ingestion of the hulls used in horticulture or by the direct ingestion of chocolate.
- Make your parrot vomit immediately or up to one hour after absorption.
- Give activated charcoal for 2 to 3 days, the latter does not absorb these alkaloids but accelerates their degradation in the blood.
- There is no known antidote.
- Do not give lidocaine, erythromycin, or corticosteroids.
- Keep the parrot warm and quickly run to a vet for supportive treatments.
Ultimately, the best is not to take any risks by eating or leaving chocolate lying around near a parrot… you never know!