Can Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Christina Fernandez, DVM
Jun 30, 2020
   |   3 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Chocolate is toxic to dogs.

Despite being a tasty treat for people, ingesting even the smallest amount can be extremely hazardous to your dogs’ health.

In rare cases, dogs can die from eating chocolate.

If your dog ate chocolate, contact your veterinarian, an emergency veterinarian, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 (a fee applies).

Why Can’t Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Chocolate contains a class of chemicals known as methylxanthines (specifically caffeine and theobromine).

These chemicals are known for their effects on the heart and muscles. After a dog eats chocolate, their body cannot process these chemicals the same way our bodies can. This leads to increased sensitivity to the chemicals’ toxic effects and the signs (or symptoms) we see in dogs.

Can Dogs Be Allergic to Chocolate?

Just like in humans, dogs can develop allergies to anything they eat. The bigger concern with chocolate ingestion in dogs is toxicity. If you are concerned that your dog is having an allergic reaction, it's best to contact a veterinarian for advice.

What Are the Effects of Chocolate on Dogs?

The signs of chocolate toxicity can occur quickly (within one to two hours), or they may take several hours to develop. They can last anywhere from several hours to days.

Hospitalization and supportive care may be required depending on the severity of signs that your dog is experiencing.

Signs of chocolate toxicity in dogs may include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Lethargy

  • Panting or increased breathing rate

  • Restless or anxious behavior

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Racing or increased heart rate

  • Abnormal heart rhythm

  • Muscle tremors

  • Increased body temperature

  • Advanced signs such as seizure, collapse, coma, or death

The extent of chocolate’s effect on dogs and how toxic chocolate can be for your dog depends on a few factors. The PetMD Chocolate Toxicity Meter for dogs is a tool that you can use to help calculate your dog’s risk and the potential symptoms you might see. To use it, you must know (or estimate):

  • Type of chocolate

  • Your dog’s weight

  • Amount of chocolate ingested

Which Types of Chocolate Are More Toxic for Dogs?

All types of chocolate can be toxic to dogs, but the amount of chocolate and type ingested are important factors to consider, because the concentration of caffeine and theobromine can vary.

In general, darker, more bitter chocolate is considered to be the most dangerous. This is because dark chocolate contains more theobromine per ounce when compared to other types of chocolate.

Amount of Theobromine in Different Types of Chocolate

The list below includes the estimated amounts of theobromine in each type of chocolate in milligrams (mg) per ounce (oz)1.

  • Cacao beans: 300-1500 mg/oz.

  • Cocoa powder: 400-737 mg/oz.

  • Unsweetened baking chocolate: 390-450 mg/oz.

  • Dark chocolate: 135 mg/oz.

  • Milk chocolate: 44-60 mg/oz.

  • White chocolate: 0.25 mg/oz.

How Your Dog’s Weight and Amount of Chocolate Play a Role

Your dog’s weight is also an important factor to consider along with the type and amount of chocolate eaten.

A 10-pound dog that eats a smaller amount of dark chocolate may experience more severe signs and require more care compared to a 10-pound dog that eats a larger quantity of milk chocolate.

What to Do If Your Dog Ate Chocolate

If your dog ingests chocolate, it’s important to call a veterinarian right away. Your vet can help determine if the amount ingested is toxic and what the best course of action is.

Keep your dog calm and safe while you await care and advice. The veterinarian may give instructions to induce vomiting at home or may recommend immediate care at the clinic.

Treatments that may be administered by a vet include:

  • Activated charcoal (to prevent further absorption of the toxin from the gut)

  • Passage of a stomach tube (to remove toxin directly from the stomach)

  • Intravenous fluids (to help with hydration and cardiovascular support)

  • Other therapies aimed at controlling specific clinical signs

The overall prognosis for a dog that ate chocolate is generally good with quick and efficient care.

Storing chocolate in a safe place (even the refrigerator) and educating others in the house not to feed chocolate to dogs is the best prevention.

Reference:

  1. Hovda L, Brutlag A, Poppenga R, et al. Small Animal Toxicology. 2nd edition. Wiley Blackwell. 2016.

Featured Image: iStock.com/yellowsarah

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