Why Chocolate Is Toxic to Dogs
Chocolate contains both theobromine and caffeine, both of which can speed up the heart rate and stimulate dogs’ nervous systems. The risk of your dog becoming sick from ingesting chocolate depends on the type and amount of chocolate consumed and your dog’s weight. Calculate your dog’s risk of toxicity with this easy-to-use program. The concentrations of these toxic substances vary among different types of chocolates.
Here are a few types of chocolate listed in order of theobromine content:
Knowing how much and what kind of chocolate your dog ate can help you and your vet determine if you have an emergency. In general, mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a dog consumes 20 mg of methylxanthines per kilogram of body weight. Cardiac symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur around 40 to 50 mg/kg, and seizures occur at dosages greater than 60 mg/kg.
In simpler terms, that means a very concerning dose of chocolate is approximately one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight. Since an average Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces, consuming even one chocolate bar can have serious consequences, especially for small dogs. Eating a crumb of chocolate cake or a very small piece of a chocolate bar, on the other hand, probably won’t kill your dog, especially if it is a larger breed, but dogs should never be fed chocolate as a treat.
dog-safe alternative to chocolate is carob, which is just as tasty to canines!
Understanding Dogs and Chocolate: Is It Harmful?
Chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine and to a lesser extent, caffeine. Humans metabolize theobromine easily, but dogs dont. Dogs process theobromine and caffeine slowly, which allows these toxic compounds to build up in their systems and cause clinical signs associated with chocolate toxicity.
But when it comes to toxicity, not all chocolate is the same. What happens if a dog eats chocolate is different based on the type of chocolate they consumed. Bakers chocolate and cocoa, for example, are considered to be the most toxic, then dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.
Chocolate toxicity is so common in dogs that the Merck Veterinary Manual offers a chocolate toxicity meter that you can use to determine if your dog has consumed a toxic amount of chocolate.
What Are the Signs of Chocolate Poisoning?
Signs of chocolate poisoning usually appear within 6 to 12 hours after your dog has eaten it. Older dogs and dogs with heart conditions are more at risk of sudden death from chocolate poisoning. The symptoms, which may last up to 72 hours, include the following:
Why Can’t Dogs Eat Chocolate?
While the occasional chocolate chip within one cookie may not be an issue, we worry about certain types of chocolate – the less sweet and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. Other sources include chewable, flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. The chemical toxicity is due to a methylxanthine (theobromine), and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and rarely, even death. With Halloween right around the corner, make sure your kids know to hide the stash from your dogs. (Dogs make up 95% of all our chocolate calls, as cats are usually too discriminating to eat chocolate!) In smaller dogs, even the wrappers from candy can result in a secondary obstruction in the stomach or intestines.
When it comes to chocolate, it’s imperative to remember this fact: Dark = dangerous! The darker the chocolate, the larger the amount of theobromine, a cousin chemical to caffeine, that it contains. Thus, baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa powder and gourmet dark chocolates are more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has very little theobromine and will not cause chocolate poisoning in pets.
It’s the dose that makes the poison! Pets that ingest a few M&Ms or 1-2 bites of a chocolate chip cookie are unlikely to develop chocolate poisoning.
Ingestions of small amounts of chocolate may cause mild vomiting and diarrhea. Larger ingestions can cause severe agitation, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures and collapse.
Induce vomiting and give multiple doses activated charcoal to decontaminate. Aggressive IV fluids to help with excretion, sedatives to calm the pet, specific heart medications to reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, anti-convulsants for seizures, antacids (such as Pepcid) for stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Theobromine may be reabsorbed across the bladder wall so a urinary catheter or frequent walks are needed to keep the bladder empty.
Excellent with small ingestions (such as mild stomach upset). Excellent in pets with mild signs of poisoning (such as mild stomach upset or slight restlessness). Poor in those with severe signs of poisoning such as collapse and seizures.