Alarming Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

No matter how carefully I put food away, my dogs always manage to scrape it off the counter while I’m at work.  They’ve eaten sticks of butter, licked an entire container of brown sugar, and cleaned out yogurt containers for me. I’ve heard about the symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs, but I never thought it would happen to me.

One day, my pit mix got into a whole package of store-bought brownies! Was I scared? Yes. Was he sick? Not at all.

After looking at the ingredients in the package, it appeared that the first ingredients were sugar and fat.  Cocoa powder was near the end, meaning it contained very little actual chocolate.

“Real” chocolate comes from cacao beans which are roasted to bring out the flavor. Once that process is complete, the bean shells are opened to reveal a nib. This part of the bean is edible but is extremely bitter.  Before that product becomes chocolate bars or baking chocolate, it goes through a number of processes to make it more palatable.

 

Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Chocolate contains both theobromine and caffeine, both of which produce similar effects in the body. When ingested by a dog, the results can be deadly.  The following are the most common symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs:

 

  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Restlessness.
  • Increased urination.
  • Tremors.
  • Elevated or abnormal heart rate.
  • Seizures.
  • Collapse and death.



Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs can occur between 6 and 12 hours from the time of ingestion.

 

Is All Chocolate Toxic For Dogs?

There are some fundamental differences in the quality of the chocolate that determines how toxic it actually is to a dog.  If your dog has eaten chocolate, determine what type it was. For example:

White Chocolate

White chocolate isn’t truly chocolate at all.  In order to be considered chocolate, and dangerous for dogs, it would have to contain cocoa powder or other cocoa solids.

White Chocolate is made from a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, milk fat and lecithin — a fatty emulsifier that holds it all together.

According to Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, Associate Director of Veterinary Services, Pet Poison Helpline:

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.”

 



 

Pure, raw, chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that is toxic to dogs, but safe for human consumption. In fact, it’s considered to be beneficial to humans.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Even though some “chocolate” contains less cocoa than others, please consider ALL chocolate as poisonous for dogs and keep it well out of reach.

 

The Darker the Chocolate, the More Toxic it is for your Dog

Baking Chocolate Isn’t for Snacking!  In fact, it has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine.

 

When I was a little girl, my father let me eat an entire bar of baking chocolate.  It poisoned me. For clarification, he honestly didn’t know it would cause so much damage. I was violently sick for days until, at last, it worked itself out of my system. This happened in 1977  before anyone could do a Google search.  We learned by trial and error. Thankfully, you don’t have to do that to your dog! If you suspect your dog has eaten any amount of chocolate, please be aware of the various symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs.

Chocolate Toxicity Calculator

Petsci.co.uk has an amazing toxicity calculator that you can access here.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs don’t always show up right away. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet.  It’s always better to bring your dog to the veterinarian before there are any symptoms because the faster you get there, the quicker the doctor can reduce the number of toxins that enter the dog’s body.

It’s important to know what your dog weighs so that you can use the following calculator. The calculator will give you a pretty good idea of the effects chocolate poisoning can have on your dog. 

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.

Should I Bring my Dog to the Vet?

If you know that your dog consumed chocolate, get him/her to the veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete workup. There are some things the veterinarian can do to help reverse the damage.

If you get the dog to the vet within two hours of ingesting chocolate, the veterinarian will likely induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal to remove the toxins from the body before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

 

Anecdotally, I know several people with dogs of various sizes who have accidentally gotten into the cookie jar, or the chocolate drawer, and no toxic symptoms were witnessed.  I certainly don’t recommend taking a casual attitude about it, but I think it’s reassuring to note that, as Dr. Brutlag (above) suggests, small amounts of chocolate are not going to hurt the dog.

Holidays Are Made For Chocolates

When any holiday rolls around – Easter, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthday parties, etc., chocolate ends up being a theme.  As we enjoy ourselves with family and friends, our routines are thrown off and what we’d normally think to do (hint: hide the chocolates from the dog) might not happen.

It’s easy to get distracted with all the chaos of holidays. Dogs can easily find a way to get into those chocolates so pay particular attention during these times.  A little bit of chocolate is one thing, but when the pack leader isn’t looking, your beloved pooch might take liberties with as much as he can get. 

I love dogs and I don’t want to see any sick or worse… I see dogs the way I see an innocent child. They don’t know what’s bad for them which is why it’s up to us to keep it away.  If your dog swallowed a tiny piece of chocolate, there’s a very good chance he/she is going to be just fine.  



Leaving Your Dog with a Pet Sitter?

Before hiring any dog walker or dog/house sitter, make sure they understand the symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs. In fact, they should have a good awareness of all potentially toxic items in and around the house. Make sure that person has your phone number AND the phone number of your veterinarian on hand – just in case.

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.

Thanks for sticking around! You’ve now got some pretty good information on chocolate toxicity in dogs so why keep it to yourself! Go ahead and share this post for me!

 

Remember, I’m not a veterinarian.  Always bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian for medical advice and diagnosis.