Chocolate Ingestion in Dogs: What Pet Owners Need to Know

AllPetsiStock_000001789898_MediumMost dog owners know that they shouldn’t give their pooch chocolate. But how many times have you given your pet a bite of your chocolate chip cookie without thinking or found a bag of Halloween candy that a certain furry family member has likely helped himself to?

Most pet owners have found themselves wondering at some point. How much is too much? And just why is chocolate ingestion in dogs so bad? Read on to learn what pet owners need to know about chocolate ingestion in dogs.

Why is Chocolate Ingestion in Dogs Bad?

Chocolate ingestion in dogs is one of the most common pet poisonings veterinarians see. Toxicities can range from mild to life-threatening, so it is important that pet owners understand why chocolate is so bad for pets.

There are three main things chocolate contains that makes it bad for dogs. These include:

  • Fat
  • Theobromine (a caffeine-like stimulant in the methyxanthine family)
  • Caffeine (another methylxanthine)
  • High fat content chocolate can certainly cause digestive upset and pancreatitis. The more serious consequences of chocolate ingestions, though, tend to come from the methylxanthines theobromine and caffeine.

    These compounds are absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and distributed throughout the body. Their effects are seen within 6-12 hours of ingestion. Side effects of chocolate ingestion in pets include (from least severe to most):

  • Restlessness
  • Increased thirst/urination
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Seizures
  • How Much Chocolate is Toxic?

    Many pets have had a little chocolate at some point in their lives without serious consequence. This is because the toxicity of chocolate is very dose dependent. How serious a pet’s reaction is depends on two factors:  the size of the dog and the amount of methylxanthines ingested.  This means that a small dog needs to eat much less chocolate than a larger one to experience serious side effects.

    Not all chocolate is created equal, either. Different types of chocolate contain higher concentrations of methylxanthines, with darker versions containing more. The following is a good guide:

  • White chocolate 1 mg/oz
  • Milk chocolate: 60 mg/oz
  • Dark chocolate 130 mg/oz
  • Semi-sweet chocolate 260 mg/oz
  • Baking chocolate 450 mg/oz
  • Toxicity starts to be seen at 100-300 mg of theobromine per kilogram of dog (one kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds). Doses of 250-500 mg/kg can result in death. This means that a 10 pound dog would see toxicity after eating four ounces of milk chocolate or just one ounce of baking chocolate.

    What Do I Do If My Pet Eats Chocolate?

    If your pet ingests chocolate that could possibly be anywhere near a toxic dose, it is important to act quickly. If it has been under two hours since the exposure, we can often induce vomiting to help remove some of the chocolate from the body. Activated charcoal may also be administered to help stop the body from absorbing toxins.

    Once a pet is experiencing side effects from chocolate ingestion, there is no antidote. Supportive care including stopping vomiting or diarrhea, monitoring the heart rhythm, and controlling seizures is important. Pets with significant exposure need to be hospitalized.

    While the amount of chocolate in a bite of a chocolate chip cookie is unlikely to cause problems for most pets, it is important to understand why and when chocolate can be dangerous. It is safest to avoid letting your pet eat chocolate all together, but if you ever have an exposure please call us so we can help determine if any action needs to be taken.