Why You Shouldn’t Give Your Dog Chocolate

Chocolate is toxic to dogs and could result in a medical emergency. Ingestion of chocolate could cause your dog to have potentially life–threatening heart rhythm abnormalities, as well as central nervous system abnormalities. With chocolate poisoning being common in dogs because of their tendency to eat everything, it’s important to keep chocolate out of your dog’s reach at all times!

According to the ASPCA, chocolate ingestion in dogs is among the top ten calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). In 2017, they received more than 48 calls a day about chocolate poisoning. With the holidays soon approaching, it’s best to keep all chocolate gifts far away from our furry best friends.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA
) adds that in addition to grapes, raisins, onions, macadamia nuts, and avocados, chocolate and xylitol are two products that dog parents need to make sure their pups don’t eat.

How Much Chocolate Can Harm My Dog?

VCA Animal Hospital
explains chocolate poisoning in dogs by saying that the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is: “Baking chocolate and gourmet dark chocolate are highly concentrated and contain 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce, while common milk chocolate only contains about 44-58 mg/ounce. 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.”

They also add that the amount of toxic theobromine varies with the type of chocolate:

“Toxic doses of theobromine are reported to be as low as 20 mg/kg, where agitation, hyperactivity and gastrointestinal signs (such as drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea—all of which may smell like chocolate) can be seen. At doses over 40 mg/kg, cardiac signs can be seen, and include a racing heart rate, high blood pressure, or even heart arrhythmias. At doses of more than 60 mg/kg, neurologic signs can be seen, including tremors, twitching, and even seizures. Fatalities have been seen at around 200 mg/kg (approximately 100 mg/lb), or when complications occur.”

Dogs can even develop complications like aspiration pneumonia from vomiting after eating chocolates, which makes the prognosis for chocolate poisoning worse.

Although chocolate is extremely poisonous to dogs, there has never been a death caused by a dog eating mulch containing cocoa beans hulls. AVMA adds that “a byproduct of chocolate production, cocoa bean shells are frequently used for home landscaping. Some dogs find the mulch palatable and ingest varying amounts.”

Pup parents should avoid the use of cocoa bean shell mulch in landscaping accessible to unsupervised dogs, or at least use it cautiously around dogs with indiscriminate eating habits. There are some chocolate products that have more theobromine and caffeine than others. These are listed from highest to lowest:

  • Dry cocoa powder
  • Unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate
  • Cocoa bean hulls
  • Semisweet chocolate
  • Sweet dark chocolate
  • Milk chocolate

White milk chocolate contains the lowest amount of theobromine and caffeine, and does not significantly affect dogs.

Theobromine and Caffeine

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, two substances that are toxic to dogs. Baker’s chocolate and darker, less sweet chocolate will carry higher amounts of theobromine and caffeine, which will be more dangerous to dogs. But even if your dog consumes milk chocolate, they will still be exposed to these substances.

Even exposing your pooch to M&M’s may result in your furry best friend getting a case of mild to severe diarrhea, depending on how many they’ve eaten. Dark chocolate is being used more often in home cooking today. Since our pups love being around us 24/7, it’s easy for dogs to get hold of cooking chocolate when our backs are turned. 

If you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate, even something as small as a chocolate chip cookie, contact your veterinarian right away. Signs of chocolate poisoning will usually appear within 6 to 12 hours.

Merck’s Veterinary Manual
explains that “the LD50 of both caffeine and theobromine is reportedly 100–200 mg/kg, but severe signs and deaths may occur at much lower dosages, and individual sensitivity to methylxanthines varies. In general, mild signs (vomiting, diarrhea, polydipsia) may be seen in dogs ingesting 20 mg/kg, cardiotoxic effects may be seen at 40–50 mg/kg, and seizures may occur at dosages ≥60 mg/kg. One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs.”

Merck’s adds that “although the concentration of theobromine in chocolate is 3–10 times that of caffeine, both constituents contribute to the clinical syndrome seen in chocolate toxicosis. The exact amount of methylxanthines in chocolate varies because of the natural variation of cocoa beans and variation within brands of chocolate products.”

Signs Your Dog May Have Eaten Chocolate?

Canine consumption of theobromine and caffeine can result in severe reactions and even death. Dogs can develop a rapid heartbeat and increased urine output for every ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight. This is a potentially deadly amount of chocolate for dogs to eat. A regular Hershey’s bar of milk chocolate is 1.55 ounces, which can do quite a lot to your dog’s health.

Dogs that have been poisoned by chocolate will develop a bluish tinge to their skin and mucous membranes. They will also have high blood pressure, a fever, and may go into a coma. If your dog has eaten chocolate, you’ll need to visit your veterinarian right away.

Even if your pooch consumes just one bar, most especially if they’re a small breed, there may be serious health consequences. Senior dogs and those that have a heart condition are most at risk for sudden death.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) adds that “if you believe your dog ate chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately or call the Pet Poison Helpline (855-213-6680) for advice. Based on your dog’s size and the amount and type of chocolate consumed, your veterinarian may recommend that you monitor your dog for the clinical signs listed above and call back if his condition worsens.”

With that said, here’s how chocolate may affect your dog:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Frequent urination
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

What to Do If My Dog Ate Chocolate?

Your vet will stabilize your dog with medications for tremors and seizures, as well as for heart rhythm abnormalities. Fluids may also be given to increase urine output and to help expel theobromine and caffeine.

Even if your dog is not showing immediate signs of chocolate poisoning, you’ll need to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some dogs may not show signs right away. If that is the case, your vet will induce vomiting with repeated doses of activated charcoal. Dogs that have severe chocolate poisoning may show signs for up to 72 hours.

With that said, the ASPCA explains that they don’t use activated charcoal as much these days:

“Chocolate is one of those cases where activated charcoal is being used less and less. Due to the high sugar content of chocolate, it has an osmotic effect in the gastrointestinal tract pulling free water out of the vasculature. Methylxanthines are also diuretics and more fluid losses occur in the urine. Adding the osmotic effects of activated charcoal into the mix can result in a hypernatremia disaster. Activated charcoal is reserved for high-dose cases, particularly when emesis results have been poor.”

If you think that your dog has consumed chocolate, or even a sugar-free cookie with raisins, call your veterinarian immediately. You can also call the Pet Poison Control Helpline (855-213-6680) for advice on what to do.

The AKC advises teaching your pup the “Leave It” Command: “The command ‘Leave It’ is extremely effective in preventing dogs from eating something that falls onto the ground or is left within reach during a walk. It’s also a very easy command to teach.”

Know your dog’s size and weight when you call, as well as the type and amount of chocolate consumed. As usual, you should always bring your furry best friend to your veterinarian to triple-check that they’re fine. Even if your dog has only eaten a small amount of chocolate, it’s best to make sure that they do not need veterinary intervention. Be prepared during the holidays and keep all chocolates away from your furry friends!

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