Why Caffeine is Toxic to Birds

Dr. Lisa
Lisa Paul DVM
Longmont, Colo

Why Caffeine is so Harmful to Birds

Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine. Caffeine and theobromine belong to a chemical class of alkaloids called methylated xanthines. These are found in cola, coffee, tea, and in chocolate. As a class of drugs, Methylated xanthines cause central nervous system (CNS) stimulation, diuresis (flushing of fluids through the body), cardiac (heart) muscle stimulation, and smooth muscle stimulation.

Caffeine is toxic to birds. Methylxanthines are absorbed very quickly and easily from the oral cavity and intestinal tract. The liver is needed to metabolize these chemicals, and the waste products are excreted in the urine. These chemicals primarily affect the CNS and kidneys. These chemicals cause increased motor activity and also result in tachycardia (too fast a heart beat.) Because of the increased motor activity, seizures may occur. The kidneys may be affected causing diuresis and very high urine output. This may lead to dehydration. Respirations may become too rapid, and hyperthermia (too high a body temperature) may occur, resulting in death. There is NO antidote for these drugs. We may only treat symptoms with supportive care and drugs to decrease their severity.

Toxic dosages for birds are not well established. In dogs the toxic dose is approximately 200 mg/kg of body weight. In cats the lethal dosage is only 80 to 150 mg/kg of body weight. (higer metabolism means that less is needed to cause toxic effects.) A cup of coffee may contain 35 to 85 mg. A 12 ounce bottle of cola contains approx 50 mg. Now these levels would mean that a 1 kg (2.2kg) cat would need to drink1 1/2 to 3 colas for death to occur. However, since a bird has a much higher metablolism than a cat, and a much smaller body size than a cat, we can safely say that it would take a much smaller dose for toxic effects and possibly death to occur.

Since we are unsure of the toxic dosages in birds, one definitely should avoid ALL caffeine and chocolate consumption for pet birds. (theobromeine and caffeine are both found in chocolate-- this means that chocolate packs a double whammy!) I reccommend that these substances be avoided in ALL pet species.

I feel that my birds have enough energy as it is. Why rev their systems up even more???

1. Veterinary school lecture notes
2. Clinical and Diagnostic Veterinary Toxicology. Gary Osweiler, et Al.

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