It is common knowledge that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but you may also frequently hear from other dog owners that their dog ate chocolate at some point and was completely fine after. This information and anecdotal evidence is quite conflicting, but with good reason. While consumption of chocolate is rarely fatal (depending on the age and size of the dog, as well as the type and amount of chocolate consumed), chocolate can still cause a long list of potentially serious side effects. In the following article, we are going to discuss the toxic compounds in chocolate, why these compounds affect your dog’s health, the signs and symptoms of chocolate poisoning, as well as treatment and prevention tips.
Why is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs?
Chocolate is toxic to dogs for two main reasons. First is the chemical called theobromine and the second is caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine are poorly metabolized by dogs and can lead to a buildup of these chemicals. In humans, the theobromine chemical metabolizes in about 7 hours, but dogs can take up to 18 hours to metabolize the same amount. Theobromine and caffeine are known to act as diuretics, heart stimulants, blood vessel dilators, and smooth muscle relaxants. The amount of theobromine present in the chocolate varies by type of chocolate, with some like cocoa powder having 10% per volume of theobromine, while others like processed milk chocolate having only 44 mg per ounce (only 0.15% per volume).
List of chocolate by order of highest concentrations of theobromine:
Gourmet Dark Chocolate
Unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate
A good rule of thumb is: The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater concentrations of theobromine are present in the chocolate. A medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would only need to eat 50 grams of dark chocolate, 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate, or 9 ounces of a milk chocolate to potentially show signs of chocolate poisoning. For reference, a standard size Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Candy Bar is 1.55 ounces. White chocolate has a negligible amount of theobromine, so it not considered nearly as toxic as other forms of chocolate; however, it still poses a threat to dogs if consumed. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. It does not contain cocoa solids, unlike the other types, which is where higher concentrations of theobromine are found. Although white chocolate may not be necessarily toxic, it still remains very unhealthy and can have adverse health effects such as vomiting and/or diarrhea.
While side effects of theobromine and caffeine are the main risk factors, chocolates of all kinds also contain high fat and sugar contents, which can also pose health risks to dogs. Sugar and fat consumption can lead to do obesity and result in diseases, like pancreatitis, which is the inflammation of the pancreas. For more on canine pancreatitis, check out our article: “What is Canine Pancreatitis”?
Signs and Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning
Depending on the size of the dog, age, what type of chocolate was consumed, and the amount of said chocolate, the signs of chocolate poisoning can vary. Signs of the chocolate poisoning usually begin appearing within 6 to 12 hours after consuming the chocolate and may last up to 72 hours. Older dogs and those with heart conditions are at a higher risk for more severe reactions to chocolate poisoning.
Signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:
Elevated or abnormal heart rate
Collapse and death
Treatment for Chocolate Poisoning
When your dog consumes a dangerous amount of chocolate, it is best to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Theobromine can last in a dog’s system for 18 hours, causing symptoms to only get worse over time if not treated quickly. At the veterinarian, they might try things like inducing vomiting or using activated charcoal to remove and prevent further absorption of the theobromine into the body. Often times, this is enough of a treatment to prevent symptoms from getting worse. In some cases, they might give the dog intravenous fluids to assist with ensuring hydration and to promote natural excretion of the theobromine. In cases where the dog is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythm, medication maybe given to treat these symptoms.
Preventing Your Dog from Consuming Chocolate
Preventing your dog from consuming chocolate can be as easy as keeping chocolate out of reach of your dogs and storing any chocolate in a closed pantry or bread box. It is also important to educate your children and guest on the risks of giving chocolate to dogs and insist on them not leaving chocolate sit out in reach of dogs.
Behavior training your dog can also go a long ways. Teach your dog to “leave it” when you drop something on the floor. Most dogs will become vacuum cleaners, quickly eating up anything that you drop on the floor before you have a chance to pick it up. It is important to teach your dog at a young age that this is not okay. Not exposing your dog to chocolate in the first place will also stop your dog from getting a taste for chocolate. This will help prevent your dog from hunting it out.
If your dog is a “vacuum cleaner” for anything that hits the ground and is seeking out chocolate if left out, it may be best to crate train your dog. Anytime there is going to be chocolate left unattended or you are baking with chocolate, it might be best to crate your dog to keep them safe.
Are There Alternatives to Chocolate for Your Dogs?
Do you still want to give your dog a chocolate-flavored treat without the worries of the toxic compounds? Well you’re in luck, because the chocolate alternative, carob, is completely safe for canine consumption. Carob does not contain the toxic chemicals theobromine and caffeine, but it is still important to carefully check the label of carob dog treats to ensure they do not contain added sugars.
Though chocolate consumption by a dog may be only deadly on rare occasions and you will frequently hear from other dog owners that they let their dog have chocolate and nothing bad has happened to them does not mean that it does not have hidden side effects. A dog can’t tell its owner that they are experiencing an elevated heart rate and restlessness. With chocolate, it is best to not take any chances and to keep it away from your dog.
We hope you found this article informative and help you enhance your dog parenting knowledge.
Thank you for reading!
Michael Cassatt, LCS Director of Marketing
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