Humans and dogs have similar tastes. Just like we do, they seek out sweets and have no issue whatsoever indulging. But the difference between us and our canine friends is that they can experience dangerous effects from consuming chocolate — it can poison them, and in many cases, chocolate ingestion can be lethal. Naturally, chocolate toxicity depends on the quality and quantity ingested. While large breeds can typically handle a small amount, the same quantity could be extremely dangerous for a small dog breed.
Since there are many conflicting opinions out there and we didn’t come across a truly extensive article on the topic, we decided to put together one about (almost) everything you should know about chocolate toxicity in dogs.
Why is chocolate dangerous?
Dogs are likely to eat chocolate around holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and others. You shouldn’t leave chocolate products lying around the house in places where a curious dog might be able to find them. Theobromine is a toxic ingredient in chocolate, and it is what makes it dangerous for dogs.
What kinds of chocolate are poisonous?
Different types of chocolate have different amounts of theobromine, which is why their toxicity levels largely vary from one to the other.
You’ll be happy to know that out of all of the varieties available out there, white chocolate has the lowest level of theobromine. However, that doesn’t mean that your canine buddy should have it as a snack and that it doesn’t pose any threat whatsoever to him or her. There are two reasons why even white chocolate can be dangerous, and they consist of its sugar and fat content.
Some of the clinical signs that you could expect if your dog accidentally ate white chocolate range from vomiting to diarrhea, but there are cases reported where dogs have even developed pancreatitis after they’ve consumed this type. Fortunately, what you shouldn’t expect in this situation are the heart issues associated with theobromine toxicity.
Similarly to what you should expect if your dog ate white chocolate, the symptoms noticeable if he/she ate milk chocolate are usually vomiting and diarrhea. The reason for this is that it also contains lower levels of theobromine, so it is generally seen as less dangerous. That does not apply for chocolate with a content of 50% cocoa.
Dark chocolate and cocoa
Out of all of the types we’ve described here, pure cocoa and dark chocolate are the most harmful to dogs even if they are given only in small amounts. The symptoms can be severe, and in most cases, irregular heartbeats are likely to occur. However, that would be mild as under the vast majority of circumstances, what your pooch is likely to experience are seizures, tremors, and even death.
Like the dark variety, baking chocolate can also cause the most harm to dogs as it contains a lot of theobromine. The problem with it is that it is almost never consumed on its own, it’s given in baked goods such as brownies or cake. Since these could just as well contain macadamia nuts or raisins, it’s even more trouble. Furthermore, the added sugar in baked goods can contribute to symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting, but also pancreatitis. Heart issues are common to occur when dogs consume even a small piece of baking chocolate.
How much chocolate is dangerous to dogs?
It is generally acknowledged that an amount of around 20mg of chocolate/kg body weight can give mild symptoms (like vomiting and diarrhea). Cardiac symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a dog has ingested between 40 and 50 mg/kg body weight and seizures happen at dosages that are greater than 60mg/kg.
Is a chocolate bar dangerous to dogs?
Yes and at the same time, no. It all depends on your dog’s weight. Consuming a whole Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar can have severe consequences even for a small-sized dog since it weighs in at 1.55 ounces. Eating a very small piece of chocolate most probably won’t kill your canine companion, especially if he or she is a large breed, but as a general rule, chocolate should never be offered as a snack.
Signs of chocolate poisoning
The reason why chocolate can be so dangerous is that most of the clinical signs of chocolate toxicity show up within six to twelve hours after the dog has eaten it. Sometimes, that could happen as late as an entire day following chocolate consumption, so pet parents often don’t realize what’s wrong with their furry friends.
If your dog suffers from chocolate poisoning, the symptoms you should expect are the following:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Increased thirst and urination
- Elevated or abnormal heart rate
The segment in the dog population that is the most exposed to chocolate poisoning is represented by older dogs that already have a cardiac medical condition. Unfortunately, senior dogs are at a higher risk of experiencing sudden death due to chocolate toxicity.
When to call the vet
Since eating chocolate can have serious consequences on your dog’s health, it is highly recommended that you get in touch with a veterinarian as soon as possible. If your own isn’t available, we suggest calling an emergency vet clinic in your particular area. If that isn’t available either and you need some advice on how to handle the situation, you can call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. For more information on what types of foods and medications can be toxic to pets, feel free to check out the list made available by the Pet Poison Helpline here.
What to do if you’re not near a vet? (at home, out or camping)
Removing the chocolate that your dog has ingested can mean the difference between life and death for your canine friend. Unfortunately, that means that you should somehow induce vomiting or at least dilute the chocolate as much as you possibly can.
Inducing vomiting can be done with the help of hydrogen peroxide, which means that this solution is mostly available when you are at home. You have to mix the peroxide with water or ice cream (to make it tastier). Needless to say, do not use chocolate ice cream – opt for vanilla, instead. Since dogs can be great ice cream aficionados, feel free to give them a larger amount than what you’d usually offer to your pooch as this can make it easier for the peroxide to be swallowed faster.
But how much hydrogen peroxide should you give your dog? This is a somewhat risky way of going about things, after all, and if you give too much to your pooch, you can cause uncontrollable vomiting or bloody vomiting. The correct amount is 0.5 to 1ml per pound weight. If your dog weighs 50 pounds, you can give him or her 25 to 50ml of hydrogen peroxide orally, but just once. Never try to repeat the dose if it doesn’t cause your dog to vomit. 1 teaspoon makes for 5 ml and 1 tablespoon is 15ml, so you’d have to give 2 to 3 tablespoons of peroxide to a dog weighing 50 pounds.
Once you’ve administered the hydrogen peroxide, take your dog for a walk for at least 15 minutes. The physical activity will assist with inducing vomiting. If 30 minutes go by and your dog hasn’t thrown up the chocolate yet, try to give them some grass. Dogs usually eat grass when they’ve eaten something that can cause problems with their digestion. The grass can assist them with vomiting and therefore, eliminate the chocolate from the stomach.
Finally, if nothing works and you still have a long time before you get to the vet clinic, you should at least try to feed your dog something that he or she likes, along with water. This can at least help dilute the chocolate in the system, although you should do it quickly so that the concentration of theobromine is partially lowered.
Under no circumstances should you try to stick a finger down your dog’s throat or give them syrup of ipecac or salt — both of these can have profound side effects.
How long does it take for the chocolate to get out of your dog’s system?
There’s not a straightforward answer that can be given to this question. If your dog ate white or milk chocolate, it could take up to 24 to 48 hours for it to be completely eliminated from his/her system and with mild or no side effects. Due to the low content of cocoa in these two varieties, there is no need for you to go into a panic unless your dog ate a particularly large amount. Dark and baking chocolate can kill a dog in just 6 hours, so acting fast is extremely important if you’ve noticed that your dog ate chocolate.
What does a vet do to save your dog if he ate chocolate?
Since concentrations of theobromine vary in various forms of chocolate, the first thing that the vet will ask you is how much your dog ate and what was the exact kind. To be more specific, the average theobromine content in chocolate is as follows:
- Baking chocolate – 450mg/ounce
- Dark chocolate – 300mg/ounce
- 50% dark chocolate – 260mg/ounce
- Milk chocolate – 60mg/ounce
- White chocolate – 1mg/ounce
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you suspect that your canine friend ate chocolate, treatment will be initiated immediately without even waiting for a confirmation of an official diagnosis. As the pet parent, you will play an important role in this situation as you have to do your best at calculating how much your pet has eaten (chocolate bars, cake, or brownies) and note the brand and type of chocolate (if you still have the packaging, that’s even better). You should also be aware of your pet’s weight, if possible.
The ingredients in chocolate enter a dog’s bloodstream after two hours, so inducing vomiting later than that could be too late.
If you have taken your dog to the vet and less than two hours have passed since your pet ate chocolate, the first thing that the vet will do is to induce vomiting. While that is being taken care of, the dog will go through a physical exam and have blood and urine collected for analyses that can determine whether any organ failure has developed. EKG can be a very helpful diagnostic method as it detects heart abnormalities and arrhythmias.
Induction of vomiting at the vet clinic is far more effective than what you could be able to do at home. The vet will use a drug such as apomorphine to induce vomiting almost immediately while with hydrogen peroxide, you’d have to wait and see whether it works.
Even if vomiting was successful or in cases where it’s of no use as more than two hours following the ingestion have passed, the veterinarian will give your pet a solution of activated charcoal orally as it can absorb the remaining theobromine in the dog’s stomach. Both after charcoal treatment and vomiting induction, your canine buddy needs to be monitored for any symptoms of toxicity that could still show up within 4 to 6 hours.
Supportive therapy is usually initiated whether the pet shows any symptoms or not, in that your dog will receive electrolytes and vitamins intravenously as these can help with keeping him/her stable and safe until the toxicity wears off. Your dog will finally be in the clear once 72 hours after him having eaten chocolate have gone by.
While intravenous fluid administration can dilute theobromine levels and promote excretion, sometimes medications such as valium have to be administered, as well, as they can control muscle tremors and seizures. Antiarrhythmic medications are required for keeping cardiac symptoms under control.
How long does recovery take?
Both the recovery and the prognosis can be good if your dog is treated early (within two hours of ingestion). As previously mentioned, it can sometimes take up to three days for the dog to recover after the treatment, but this applies in cases that are actually treatable. Chocolate poisoning can be lethal both at high doses and when more than 2 hours have gone by after ingestion.
If your canine friend really has a passion for chocolate, you’re more than free to look for varieties that are made specifically for dogs and that imitate the smell of chocolate made for people. Don’t ever assume that your dog is incapable of finding your chocolate stash as it has a strong smell… and guess what, your pooch’s sense of smell is nothing to play games with. We actually recommend keeping it in the fridge where your canine buddy can’t find it.
What to do if you see a dog eat chocolate?
If this is your dog that you’ve noticed, you should induce vomiting as soon as possible using the methods that we have described above. Before anything, remove any available chocolate and try to retrieve whatever remaining pieces might still be in your pet’s mouth. Determine what type of chocolate your dog ate and try to keep him calm and then proceed to vomiting induction.
Get in touch with your vet as quickly as you can and if that’s not possible, call the Pet Poison Helpline. Some pet parents recommend against calling the helpline or the ASPCA as they will charge you $65 for the phone call and the piece of advice that you are likely to get is to also ‘call your vet’.
If you’ve managed to get your dog to vomit, try giving him activated charcoal and keep him as well hydrated as possible for 24 hours. Don’t panic if your dog ate a small amount of white chocolate, but definitely do your best to take him to the vet if dark chocolate or baked chocolate is what he ingested.
Using activated charcoal should be done in the following way.
Mix activated charcoal powder with some water according to the directions available on the package. Try to make the concoction as smooth as possible, so it’s easy for your canine buddy to swallow it. Small dogs should get just one teaspoon of this solution while dogs that are larger than 25 pounds should get two teaspoons. Don’t try to administer activated charcoal to a dog that is unconscious.
What is theobromine?
Now that we’ve discussed chocolate toxicity, it would be a good idea to understand what makes its main ingredient, theobromine, so dangerous for dogs (and other animals, too). Theobromine is a xanthine alkaloid of the cacao plant that’s water-soluble and that has an effect similar to caffeine in the human nervous system.
Cats and dogs are known for metabolizing theobromine more slowly, which means that they have a higher risk of suffering from theobromine poisoning compared to other species. Unlike dogs, cats have no sweet taste receptors, which is why cases of chocolate toxicity are less common in cats.
While classic complications of theobromine poisoning in all species cause digestive issues, dehydration, heart rate changes, and excitability, later stages can cause epileptic-like seizures and even death.
To give you an example of how dangerous this alkaloid can be even for animals that aren’t domesticated, we’ll tell you that in 2014, four black bears were found dead at a bait site located in New Hampshire. They died from heart failure caused by chocolate and doughnuts used by hunters as bait.
In case you were wondering why there are types of chocolate made specifically for dogs if they shouldn’t have any, we’ll put your mind at ease by saying that they don’t contain any theobromine at all. In fact, they usually contain carob, a cocoa substitute, which makes the treat look similar to actual chocolate.
Since some dog bakeries can use very small amounts of milk chocolate in the treats they make, we recommend being very specific about what you want before getting your dog a cake for his birthday.
No amount of chocolate is safe for dogs, so this type of snack should never be given to your canine friend. Chocolate toxicity is extremely dangerous and in many cases, it can even lead to death. It is estimated that the ASPCA receives at least 25 calls per day from people whose dogs ate chocolate, so while it is a common concern, do your best to keep it out of your companion’s way. Better yet, you should try to avoid keeping it in the house altogether.