by Elizabeth Xu
While chocolate is a sweet treat that humans can enjoy, it’s something dogs should never have. Depending on body weight, even a small bite of chocolate can make a dog sick—in a large enough quantity, death is a possibility.
Of course, not all chocolate is equal and you likely have a few different types in your home right now. Read on to find out how each type might affect your pup.
Types of Chocolate
Dogs are most likely to consume chocolate around Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, says Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, a holistic veterinarian at Clayton and Churchtown Veterinary Associates in New Jersey. However, you should always be vigilant and not leave chocolate products where a curious dog might find them.
Theobromine is the ingredient in chocolate that’s toxic to dogs, Morgan says. Different types of chocolate have varying amounts of theobromine, so their toxicity levels will vary. There are also other ingredients, like sugar, that are often combined with chocolate that can also be harmful to dogs.
Of the chocolates listed here, white chocolate has the lowest levels of theobromine, but that doesn’t mean your dog is in the all clear after chowing down: Morgan says the amount of sugar in white chocolate could be harmful, too.
“[It] could cause vomiting and diarrhea, possibly pancreatitis, but not the heart problems associated with theobromine,” she says.
Milk chocolate is found in a variety of items you might have in your pantry, including candy from Halloween or Valentine’s Day. While it does contain theobromine, the levels are lower than in dark and backing chocolate, Morgan says.
“Large volumes of mild chocolate generally result in vomiting and diarrhea,” she says.
Both dark chocolate and baking chocolate can be harmful to dogs in much small amounts than milk or white chocolate. The symptoms can be severe: Morgan says fast and irregular heartbeats are likely to occur. Additional issues include tremors, seizures, and possibly death, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Baking chocolate can cause the most harm to dogs due its levels of theobromine. Additional problems can occur if the baking chocolate was consumed in the form of baked goods such as cake or brownies.
“If the baked goods also contain raisins or macadamia nuts, it's even more trouble,” Morgan says. “Added sugar in the baked goods will contribute to vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly pancreatitis.”
Like with dark chocolate, heart issues can occur when dogs eat even a small amount of baking chocolate.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Ingested Chocolate
If you didn’t see your dog actually eat the chocolate, it can be difficult to pinpoint when it happened. The ASPCA says symptoms don’t necessarily occur immediately, and can happen up to eight hours after the chocolate was consumed.
“The first step is really to figure out how much the dog ate,” Morgan says. “If it only ate a small amount of milk chocolate, veterinary intervention is probably not needed. If the dog ate quite a bit of baking or dark chocolate, definitely contact a veterinarian.”
Keep in mind that the amount of chocolate that can cause harm to a dog with less body weight is smaller and that older dogs or dogs with a previous heart condition might react to the chocolate differently, according to the AKC.