Even in small doses, dogs and chocolate do not mix. In some cases, your best friend can die from eating it. So why is chocolate dangerous for my dog?
Vets are seeing increasing numbers of dogs suffering from chocolate toxicity as more of us opt to eat 'healthier' dark chocolate options. In fact, your dog only needs to eat 1/3 as much dark chocolate as milk chocolate to become seriously ill.
While dark chocolate and cocoa powder are the most toxic to dogs, it's important to realise that dogs and chocolate, of any variety, should not be left alone together.
Let's find out why chocolate is toxic to dogs; the types and amounts that will cause poisoning; the symptoms of chocolate toxicity; and what you can do if your best friend consumes this delicious treat.
Dogs and chocolate - why is it dangerous for my dog?
The most toxic component in chocolate that will affect your dog is called theobromine. Theobromine is a naturally occurring bitter alkaloid found in the cacao plant and causes most of the clinical signs in dogs. Theobromine affects your dog’s intestinal system, nervous system (brain and spinal cord), cardiovascular system (heart and lungs), and the kidneys.
Caffeine is also found in chocolate and is toxic to your dog, although this will depend on the type of chocolate and how much is consumed. For now, we will focus on the toxicity of theobromine.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning
The symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs, otherwise known as chocolate toxicosis, will depend on the amount eaten, the type of chocolate, and the amount of time after it was ingested.
The most common observable signs after your dog has eaten chocolate are typically gastro-intestinal. This means you may observe responses to an stomach upset, bloating, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea. You may also notice hyperactivity, restlessness, an elevated heart rate, and increased thirst and urination.
The most serious symptoms will show when the nervous system is affected. These can include tremors, seizures, hyperventilation, extreme changes in body temperature, unconsciousness, and in worst case scenarios sudden death.
Effects of different types of chocolate
Unlike milk and dark chocolate, white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids in which the majority of theobromine is found. Instead, white chocolate contains a higher proportion of cocoa butter. While cocoa butter contains theobromine, the levels are not considered toxic to your pet. That said, your dog may very well become ill after eating white chocolate given the high levels of fat and sugar within.
Milk and dark chocolate varieties
A 140g (5oz) milk chocolate bar contains approximately 250mg of theobromine, while a dark chocolate bar contains around 600mg. Unsweetened baking chocolate contains 400mg of theobromine per square, while semi-sweet chocolate chips (30 chips) contain 250mg. Dry cocoa powder contains 700mg of theobromine per ounce (just over 28g).
A small dog weighing 4.5kg (10lbs) can be fatally poisoned by as little as one milk chocolate bar containing 250mg of theobromine. A larger 75lb (34kg) dog, such as a Golden Retriever, would need to eat to eat eight milk chocolate bars to become dangerously ill.
However, dark chocolate and bakers chocolate are far more toxic; the Golden Retriever only needs to consume three of the dark chocolate bars to be fatally poisoned, while a small dog will only need to eat a portion of a dark chocolate bar for it to be potentially fatal.
What to do if your dog eats chocolate
If your dog eats any amount of chocolate, the first thing to figure out is how much has been consumed. Then, based on the type of chocolate, determine if your pet has eaten a potentially toxic amount.
You can use the following chocolate toxicity meter for dogs to help you calculate the risks.
If the dose of chocolate is 20mg per kg of theobromine or higher, you should take your pet to the vet immediately who will induce vomiting and administer the necessary treatment. If you are able to induce vomiting quickly at home then this is also recommended.
This means that if your small 4.5kg (10lb) dog eats a milk chocolate bar weighing around 140g, they will have consumed a potentially fatal dose of theobromine (approximately 250mg). Quickly inducing vomiting will stop a large portion of the theobromine from being digested.
One at-home method you can use to induce vomiting is administering hydrogen peroxide. Administer 1x teaspoon per 4.5kg (10lbs) of body weight. If your pet doesn’t vomit within 10 minutes, repeat again. Do not administer more than two rounds of hydrogen peroxide.
You can also use a salt solution. Dissolve 1x teaspoon of salt in a tablespoon of warm water per 4.5kg (10lbs) of body weight.
If you are unable to induce vomiting, and if your dog is showing signs of tremors, seizures, excessive vomiting, diarrhoea, or you are simply unsure, always seek immediate veterinary care.
The responsibility lies with you
You can now see how even a small amount of chocolate can cause serious illness for your dog. As a responsible dog owner, you should be aware of the types of chocolate, and the amounts of chocolate that can poison your dog. You should also be able to recognise the symptoms of chocolate toxicity, and know how to induce vomiting.
Just remember - dogs and chocolate do not mix so no chocolate for your furry friends - at Easter or ever!!
Check out Dr Andrew Jones’ blog for more information or ask any questions you might have on the Yummypets Pet Behaviour Forum.
Has your dog been sick from eating chocolate?