updated February 24, 2023
Just about every dog owner understands that chocolate is bad for dogs.
How it affects a dog depends on a few things, including the size of the dog, the type of chocolate, and how much chocolate the dog ate.
Let’s face it, some dogs are quick to swallow things they shouldn’t. It’s particularly easy for a dog to get into chocolate around the holidays. Whether it’s Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or any other time of the year, pet owners can easily forget and leave chocolate where a dog can reach it.
Could My Dog Die from Eating Chocolate?
Again, it depends on the amount of chocolate eaten, the dog’s size, and the type of chocolate ingested.
The problem with chocolate and dogs is the high caffeine and theobromine content. Together, these two nearly identical chemicals belong to a group of chemicals called methylxanthines. Mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a dog ingests 20 mg of methylxanthines per kilogram of body weight.
The heart is seriously affected when a dog consumes 40 to 50 mg per kg. Seizures occur at higher dosages.
Theobromine is reported to be lethal in dogs at doses between 100 and 500 mg/kg body weight.
Dogs Cannot Metabolize Chocolate Quickly
The reason why chocolate isn’t toxic for humans but is for dogs had to do with how quickly the main toxic components are digested. The half-life of theobromine in humans is 2 – 3 hours. This means that in 2 – 3 hours, the amount of theobromine in the system has been reduced by half.
The half-life of theobromine in dogs is 17.5 hours. That means it takes nearly 18 hours for a dog’s body to metabolize half of the compound. The half-life of caffeine in dogs is 4.5 hours.
These two compounds affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. They also have a diuretic effect on the body.
Ultimately, large amounts of chocolate can seriously harm a dog and can lead to death.
Quality & Type of Chocolate
The other factor in how chocolate will affect your dog has to do with the quality of the chocolate. Dark chocolate is more dangerous than white chocolate. The reason for this has to do with the ratio of butter, sugar, and milk, to actual theobromine. White chocolate, for example, has less theobromine than darker chocolate.
The amount of theobromine and caffeine in chocolate vary depending on the amount of cocoa solids used, growing conditions, sources, and varieties of cocoa beans used. Not all chocolates contain the same amounts.
Dark chocolate like Baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder have the highest amounts of theobromine and caffeine.
White chocolate may be “less dangerous” for dogs, but it’s still dangerous. The sugar and fat content alone are enough to cause or worsen underlying health conditions.
White chocolate is made by mixing cocoa butter with milk solids and sugar. This confection isn’t considered as serious an issue for dogs, primarily because it doesn’t contain cocoa liquor or chocolate solids.
The amount of theobromine in white chocolate is 0.1 mg per gram.
There is a large selection of chocolate bars on the market. Some are made with dark, rich chocolate and others lean more heavily on sugar and cream than actual chocolate. Each of these products may contain varying amounts of theobromine and caffeine.
Milk chocolate contains 44 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate. In other words, 704 mg of theobromine for every pound of milk chocolate.
Baker’s Chocolate (Dark Chocolate)
Dark chocolate contains the highest levels of theobromine and caffeine because it is more concentrated than other forms of cocoa. Dark chocolate is thought to provide humans with antioxidants. In a dog, the stuff can be deadly.
Baking chocolate contains 390 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate. In other words, 6240 mg of theobromine for every pound of baking chocolate.
Cocoa powder has a high concentration of theobromine at 20 mg per gram.
Sugar Free Chocolate
Sugar free chocolate is especially dangerous for dogs. In addition to the dangers of theobromine and caffeine, this kind of chocolate can also contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
Xylitol can cause a dog’s blood sugar levels to drop dangerously. It can also cause liver failure in dogs.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
The clinical signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs can begin 2 – 24 hours after ingestion.
Again, signs of chocolate toxicity in dogs will vary depending on the severity of the poisoning. Some dogs may only experience stomach upset where others could ingest enough theobromine to cause severe symptoms.
Signs of poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive thirst
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Low blood pressure
- Anxiety or agitation
- Muscle rigidity
- Muscle tremors
- Cardiac failure
- Coma (advanced signs)
How Long Does It Take for Chocolate Poisoning Symptoms to Occur?
If your dog has eaten chocolate, signs will usually appear within 6 to 12 hours of ingestion.
What To Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate
Don’t panic. If a dog eats chocolate, the effects aren’t instant, which means you have time to get help. The first thing you should do is call poison control (or your licensed veterinarian) for advice.
PET POISON CONTROL
Naturally, the earlier the toxins can be cleared from the dog’s body the better. Erring on the side of caution is always a good idea when it comes to our dogs.
The person on the phone is going to have a lot of very specific questions for you.
You should be prepared to tell that person the type of chocolate eaten (milk, dark, white, baker’s, etc.), amount eaten, weight of your dog and dog breed. Do not wait to see symptoms of chocolate poisoning in your dog before getting help.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Dog Eating Chocolate?
As long as your dog is successfully treated for chocolate poisoning, there are no long-term health effects.
Could My Dog Die of Chocolate Poisoning?
If you act quickly by phoning poison control or the veterinarian, inducing vomiting, and bringing your dog in for immediate treatment, your dog will likely be fine.
The quicker those toxins can be blocked with activated charcoal, the better off your dog is going to be.
Can Chocolate Poisoning Cause Brain Damage in Dogs?
Brain damage can occur in extremely rare cases if the dog experiences prolonged seizures.
Treating Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog has eaten chocolate and is showing signs of toxicity, contact your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinarian clinic. You will need to bring your dog in right away for treatment.
To induce vomiting in dogs, the veterinarian will use an emetic medication like Apomorphine. It can be administered orally, intravenously, or subcutaneously and typically begins working with 5 – 10 minutes.
Hydrogen peroxide (3%) can also be used. It’s applied to the back of the throat in order to stimulate vomiting.
Activated charcoal works by binding the toxin so that it can’t be absorbed into the body. This allows the toxin to safely pass through the digestive system until it’s eliminated by the bowels.
Intravenous fluids may be administered as part of supportive care. Fluid therapy helps to flush toxins from the body, correct dehydration, improve blood pressure, and support healthy organ function.
Heart medications may be administered if the toxin is causing low blood pressure, tachycardia, or the dog is showing signs of heart failure.
Anti-convulsant medications are used if the dog is experiencing seizures due to chocolate toxicity.
Antacids may also be added to the treatment plan to aid in absorbing any remaining toxins in the body.
“White chocolate barely poses any threat of chocolate poisoning with only 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate (that said, dogs can still get sick from all that fat and sugar, which can cause pancreatitis). To put this in perspective, a medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate, or 9 ounces of milk chocolate, to potentially show signs of poisoning. For many dogs, ingesting small amounts of milk chocolate is not harmful.”Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, Associate Director of Veterinary Services, Pet Poison Helpline
Chocolate Toxicity Calculator
Petsci.co.uk has an amazing toxicity calculator that you can access here.
Just enter your dog’s weight and any amount of chocolate to see what effects it would have. The calculator is meant to inform and enlighten, not to take the place of professional veterinarian care or advice.
At the end of the day, the biggest concern is the size of the dog, the amount of chocolate, and more specifically the TYPE of chocolate. Remember, the darker the chocolate the more potentially dangerous it can be for your dog.
Chocolate treats are best left for the dog owners, not the dogs. Even if a dog is able to eat a small amount of chocolate with no obvious effects, it’s still not a good idea. Small amounts of chocolate can be fatal for dogs.
Remember, I’m not a veterinarian. Always bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian for medical advice and diagnosis.
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DVM, R. F. (2017, October 22). How to Give Activated Charcoal if Your Dog Eats Something Poisonous (Toxic) – Medicine River Animal Hospital Madeira Beach FL 33708. Medicine River Animal Hospital Madeira Beach FL 33708. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from https://www.medicineriveranimalhospital.com/give-activated-charcoal-dog-eats-something-poisonous-toxic/
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