Contributed by Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ.
Can Dogs Eat Chocolate Like Their Pet Parents?
If you have a dog, then you know that they don’t always know what’s good for them. Every puppy or dog who gets adopted should come with the following warning label attached to their collar:
Dogs love the taste of chocolate.
Chocolate is toxic to dogs.
Keep chocolate out of the reach of dogs.
Our clinic routinely sees dogs who need treatment for accidental ingestion of chocolate. They just can’t help themselves! While a dog’s body is uncannily similar to a human’s in many ways, how they metabolize chocolate is not one of them.
Dogs and Chocolate: The Consequences
While chocolate ingestion is rarely fatal, the potential for life-threatening poisoning still exists, depending on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. The toxic compounds in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine. Dogs are more sensitive to these chemicals than humans. Cats are even more sensitive, although they are rarely seen for chocolate toxicity since they don’t love the sweet taste like dogs do.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
If a dog consumes a large enough amount of chocolate, it can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and dysfunction of the nervous system. It can also have a diuretic effect and cause an upset stomach. Chocolate has to be metabolized by the liver before affecting the rest of the body, so signs of chocolate poisoning can take anywhere from 6-12 hours after ingestion to occur, depending on how fast the animal’s metabolism is. Signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs can include:
- hyperactivity or agitation,
- dilated pupils,
- excessive drinking and/or urinating,
- fast heart rate,
- blue gums,
- and/or diarrhea.
In severe cases, coma or death can occur. The problem is worsened by the fact that the toxic compounds continually recirculate through the blood due to liver metabolism, and symptoms can last hours or days. Bottom line: Dogs and chocolate do not mix.
Types of Chocolate and Their Effects
The toxicity of chocolate depends on how much a dog eats relative to his size and the type of chocolate consumed.
White chocolate contains trace levels of caffeine or theobromine and therefore does not pose the same type of toxicity danger to dogs. However, dogs can still develop an upset stomach or diarrhea from the sugar, or worse, pancreatitis from the high fat content of white chocolate. Milk chocolate does contain caffeine and theobromine and is more toxic than white chocolate, but less toxic than dark chocolate. Baker’s chocolate contains the highest level of toxic compounds and is the most lethal of all.
If your dog consumes chocolate, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian for recommendations. PetMD has a chocolate toxicity meter you can use to determine if the amount of chocolate your dog ate is considered fatal.
What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate
If your dog consumes chocolate, call your veterinarian. Your veterinary care team will need to know the type of chocolate consumed, how much you think your dog ate, and approximately when the chocolate was consumed. If you don’t know, just try to provide as much information as possible. If your dog is already showing symptoms, don’t wait—go immediately to an emergency clinic and take the chocolate packaging with you if you can.
Treatment of Chocolate Toxicity In Dogs
Treatment of chocolate toxicity depends on the amount consumed, when it was consumed, the size of the dog and the severity of the signs. If a large dog eats one chocolate Hershey’s Kiss, then it’s probably too low of a dose to be toxic, and it’s likely that no treatment is needed. If a Chihuahua eats an ounce of dark chocolate, then it’s more likely to be toxic and treatment will be needed. It is always best to consult your veterinarian in any case to be sure your pet is not at risk.
Treatment consists of detoxification and supportive care. If the dog just ate chocolate, then your veterinarian will give him medication to make him vomit, administer activated charcoal to absorb any toxins left in the GI tract and then monitor for any clinical signs. If the dog is already showing signs, then the dog will likely need hospitalization with supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, body temperature control, medication to control seizures and medication and/or monitoring for any heart abnormalities.