Sheep are herbivorous grazers, and that means they subsist entirely on a diet of plant matter, and mostly on grass, hay and things like that.
However, sheep can eat fruits and vegetables, and even a few things that might surprise you.
How about chocolate? Chocolate is made from cocoa and that comes from plants. Can sheep eat chocolate?
No, sheep cannot have chocolate. Aside from being non-nutritious for sheep, chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a compound which is toxic for many mammals including sheep. Sheep do not have to eat much chocolate for serious health problems to result.
You might think it’s funny or even charming to share a little bit of the sweet stuff with your flock, but you’d be wrong.
Chocolate is extremely harmful for many animals, sheep included, and you should never give it to them.
Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the hazards of chocolate for sheep.
Sheep Cannot Eat Chocolate
The bottom line is that chocolate is poisonous for sheep, and even if it wasn’t it is nutritionally bankrupt.
Chocolate contains milk, cocoa, sugar and other ingredients, none of which sheep should have.
In a best case scenario, chocolate will give your sheep serious diarrhea or other digestive problems, and it can cause them to gain weight.
That has problems of its own, including dehydration, but far more serious issues can result from eating something as rich and non-normal as chocolate.
Things like bloat, peritonitis, laminitis and more can all be brought on by chocolate.
But that is only the food and nutritional (or lack of nutrition) related effects. Chocolate is toxic for sheep, poisonous, and they should never be allowed to have it.
Chocolate Contains Theobromine, Toxic for Sheep
Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a bitter alkaloid compound that’s toxic for many animals including sheep.
The amount of theobromine in chocolate varies depending on the type of chocolate, but it’s generally present in all forms of chocolate in small amounts.
Theobromine is a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic, and it’s also a bronchodilator. In other words, it has effects on just about every system in an animal’s body, and not in a good way.
Theobromine can cause an irregular heartbeat, dehydration, seizures and even death. For sheep, the danger is real and even a small amount of chocolate can be problematic.
Darker Chocolate Contains More Theobromine
Something to keep in mind is that the level of theobromine varies depending on the quality or darkness of the cocoa, and anything made with it.
The higher the quality or darkness of the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains.
For example, 100 grams of baking chocolate contains about 1300 milligrams of theobromine, while milk chocolate only has about 40 milligrams. The toxicity of the chocolate directly corresponds with how much theobromine it contains.
As little as a third of an ounce of chocolate per pound of body weight can be enough to kill a sheep, so you can see how even a small amount of chocolate can be extremely dangerous.
For example, a five-pound lamb could easily die from eating just a tiny amount of baking or dark chocolate.
A full grown adult will need significantly more to achieve a fatal dose, but harmful effects can still be encountered well before that level.
Effects of Theobromine Poisoning in Sheep
The effects of theobromine poisoning in sheep will depend on how much chocolate they ate, and what type it was.
In general, you can expect to see some or all of the following symptoms: Digestive upset including diarrhea, excessive urination, increased thirst, panting, rapid heartbeat, seizures, tremors, twitching muscles and vomiting.
In case of serious poisoning sheep may not be able to stand, fall comatose or just die. A sheep that ingests chocolate may show some of these symptoms, several or none at all.
Can Sheep Eat Chocolate Raw?
No. Raw chocolate is even more dangerous for sheep than cooked chocolate because it contains higher levels of theobromine. It’s best to avoid giving your sheep any chocolate in any form.
Can Sheep Eat Chocolate Cooked?
No. Cooking chocolate does not make it safe for sheep to eat. The theobromine levels are not significantly reduced by cooking, and the chocolate is still just as dangerous.
Never Give Chocolate to Lambs
I hope it is obvious, but you must never give chocolate to lambs, or allow any possibility that they might eat it. The danger is just too great.
A lamb’s small size means that a very small amount of chocolate can be fatal, and even if it doesn’t kill them the effects can still be extremely harmful.
What Should You Do If Your Sheep Eat Chocolate or Cocoa?
If you think your sheep may have eaten chocolate, it is important to act quickly and get them away from or remove the source.
If you are sure they have only eaten a small amount, you may be able to wait it out and monitor them closely for any signs of distress.
However, if they have eaten a lot of chocolate or if they are showing any signs of theobromine poisoning, you need to call your veterinarian immediately.
Your vet will likely want to do some blood tests and may want to give your sheep an antidote to help bind the theobromine and prevent it from being further absorbed into their system.
They may also give them IV fluids to help flush their system and prevent dehydration. In serious cases, your vet may need to administer drugs to control seizures or heart arrhythmias.
If your sheep are in extreme distress, they may need to be hospitalized and monitored until the danger has passed.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.