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Chocolate Toxicity – Is Chocolate Harmful for Your Dogs?

Picture of dog in the flowers

Many people think of chocolate as the ultimate cure-all. Whatever ails you, a little bit of chocolate seems to make it better, and a lot has the power to help you turn the corner from complete misery to serene bliss. Much like people, dogs are also drawn to chocolate and seem to possess the same sweet tooth that also plagues their owners. However, chocolate can be toxic to dogs. Yet varying reports exist about the dangers of chocolate consumption by our pets, and it’s hard to discern the truth. Is chocolate harmful for our dogs?

Is Chocolate Safe for Dogs?

While chocolate has little negative effect on people other than upset tummies and potential weight gain as a result of overconsumption, this is certainly not always the case with our pets. However, when it comes to chocolate toxicity, not all chocolate is created equally. Because of this, certain types of chocolate can be deadly for our dogs while others may merely cause stomach upsets and diarrhea. Very small quantities of chocolate containing very low levels of the cacao bean may produce no ill effects whatsoever. 

What Causes Chocolate Toxicity?

Chocolate is comprised of theobromine, a chemical which has a cocaine-like effect on our dogs’ systems. When consumed in sufficient quantities, theobromine causes the heart to race which ultimately leads to death by heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, chocolate toxicity is fairly quick acting. If your dog has eaten enough of the wrong kind of chocolate to produce early warning signs, treatment is possible, but it must be caught and treated immediately.

Treatment for chocolate poisoning generally involves the administration of charcoal to induce vomiting to remove the vast majority of any chocolate residue from your dog’s system. Dogs who receive treatment via this method must then be under careful observation to monitor symptoms and provide fluids if necessary to help stave off dehydration as a result of vomiting.

The truth is the wrong kind of chocolate eaten in the wrong amounts is deadly. Because chocolate nearly always causes at least minor illness in our dogs and has the potential to prematurely end their lives, it is best to avoid it entirely. 

What Kind of Chocolate and How Much Does It Take to Make a Dog Sick?

Though theobromine is always the culprit in chocolate toxicity, the amounts contained within chocolate vary depending on the type of chocolate and the amount eaten. Your dog’s weight also plays a critical role. A 6 lb Yorkshire Terrier needs to consume far less chocolate than a 120 lb Bullmastiff to reach fatal levels of chocolate poisoning.

Dark chocolate carries the most significant risk for dogs. Chocolate that contains 70 percent or higher cacao packs a powerhouse theobromine punch at 130-145 mg of the toxic chemical per ounce. Milk chocolate poses far less threat with only 44-58 mg per ounce.

White chocolate is of very little concern when it comes to poisoning.  It is comprised of only 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce. While dogs who consume white chocolate are highly unlikely to experience poisoning, the excessive amounts of milk and sugar can lead to bouts of pancreatitis. Because of this, white chocolate should also be avoided.

In practical terms, what does all of this mean?

Chocolate toxicity can occur with as little a dosage as 20 mg per kg of body weight. This translates to a 50 lb dog eating either a single ounce of dark chocolate or 9 ounces of milk chocolate to become seriously ill.

What Are the Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs?

There are many different symptoms a dog suffering with chocolate poisoning may exhibit. The severity will be defined by the amount and type of chocolate consumed.

The Most Commonly Seen Symptoms Are:

  • Panting and labored breathing
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Pacing and restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Rapidly increased heart rate
  • Increased urination
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Death

Chocolate toxicity can take as little as a few hours to surface, and its effects can linger for several days, assuming the toxicity is at lower levels. Higher levels of theobromine cause the toxins to progress far more rapidly with symptoms greatly accelerating over a short period of time.

If Your Dog Has Eaten Chocolate, What Can You Do?

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away. Be certain to have the wrapper on hand as your veterinarian will need to know the amount and type of chocolate your dog has consumed in order to be able to provide the most effective treatment options. A visit to your local veterinary clinic will likely be required, and overnight hospitalization may be necessary as well.

For dogs who have received toxic levels of theobromine, recovery is possible, and even likely, if treatment is begun in sufficient time. But make no mistake high levels of theobromine consumption are a medical emergency. If you think your dog has eaten a vast amount of chocolate that is high in cacao content, do not delay. Time will be of the essence.

What About Cats?

Our favorite feline friends also need to be wary of chocolate. Fortunately, most cats aren’t fond of the taste of chocolate and are unlikely to try to eat it without human intervention. Theobromine is also to blame for chocolate toxicity in cats.

The effects and dosages are the same in cats as they are in dogs.

Because cats will not naturally gravitate to chocolate as a forbidden snack, toxicity in cats is much less likely to occur. However, it is still wise to keep chocolate under lock and key for the utmost in safety precautions for your pets.

Is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs?

The answer is definitively, yes. However, it is not always deadly. The amount and type of chocolate ingested by your pet will determine the type of symptoms he will develop. For complete peace of mind, keep chocolate hidden behind locked doors to prevent an accident that at best could be an uncomfortable inconvenience, and at worst, a terrible tragedy.

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