- Theobromine is the toxic ingredient in chocolate that causes problems for dogs
- Just 1oz of dark chocolate can be toxic to small and medium-sized pooches
- Chocolate affects the heart, nervous and gastrointestinal systems and can cause organ failure
- Chocolate poisoning is rarely fatal, but this is due to rapid treatment, and you should take your dog to your local emergency clinic or DVM if they have eaten chocolate
Fall is in the air, and with that comes the holiday season involving lots of chocolate. While this is great for us humans to enjoy, it also poses dangers for our canine sidekicks.
I see more canine companions in my clinic, having eaten candy and chocolate at this time of year. The main chemical in chocolate, theobromine, causes toxic effects though there is also some caffeine in there too.
All types of chocolate are dangerous for dogs, with dark chocolate containing the highest levels of theobromine and caffeine, thus posing the most potent risk for our pooches.
This article will focus on the risks of dark chocolate though all chocolate and lots of human candies are unsafe for our fur babies.
If your dog has gotten into some dark chocolate, we recommend contacting the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 and your local DVM for advice and an emergency appointment for your furbaby.
How much dark chocolate is toxic to dogs?
Dark chocolate contains more theobromine than milk chocolate, with some gourmet dark chocolates containing up to 450mg of theobromine/oz of dark chocolate.
Compare this with the average milk chocolate, which contains about 50mg of theobromine/oz. Just 1oz chocolate per 20lbs body weight is toxic to our pooches. Chocolate is also high in sugar and fat, which can also pose an additional threat to our pooches, causing tummy upsets or even pancreatitis.
Just 1oz of gourmet dark chocolate could cause a 20lb pooch to show signs of toxicity. A good rule of thumb is to consult your veterinarian if your dog has eaten 1oz of dark chocolate per 20lb of body weight.
What to do if my dog ate dark chocolate?
The first thing to do if your pup has eaten dark chocolate is to get the wrapper and weigh your dog. This will help to determine how much your dog has eaten. Then contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 and your DVM, who will help you calculate whether your pooch has eaten a toxic amount for their body size.
If your dog has eaten baker’s chocolate, this is almost always considered an emergency due to the levels of theobromine and caffeine in his type of chocolate.
Puppies and geriatric dogs or those with underlying health (especially cardiac) conditions are at increased risk of chocolate poisoning and should also be treated as an emergency.
If your dog has eaten less than a toxic amount, your veterinarian may prescribe some antacid medications to help with tummy upsets. Activated charcoal may even help to prevent a tummy upset. dogs that have eaten toxic levels of chocolate will invariably need hospitalization and emergency treatment.
When to see a vet?
Dogs that have eaten any dark chocolate should be taken to your DVM as an emergency. The level of theobromine is so high in dark chocolate that these pooches need decontamination (vomiting and activated charcoal) along with aggressive fluid therapy.
Dark chocolate consumption is a true emergency in our pooch friends, and the sooner your veterinarian can examine and treat your dog, the faster your dog can recover.
If your dog has eaten dark or baker’s chocolate, you should immediately contact your veterinarian to be seen on an emergency basis. An average bar of dark chocolate could contain as much as 4000mg of theobromine which is toxic to most pooches.
What if my dog ate plenty of dark chocolate but seems fine?
After eating dark chocolate, even large amounts, your dog will likely seem completely fine for several hours as it takes some time for the chocolate to be digested and the toxic chemical theobromine (along with the fats and caffeine) to be absorbed into their bloodstream.
Once the chocolate has started to undergo digestion and absorption is when clinical signs will start to appear. Watch out for vomiting and diarrhea, restlessness, and panting in dogs that have eaten chocolate, but ideally, you should have your dog seen by your DVM before these signs start (we understand it’s not always possible).
Your dog will seem fine for a couple of hours after eating chocolate, but that’s because it takes some time to be absorbed. Once you realize your pooch has eaten some chocolate, contact your veterinarian for an emergency appointment to induce vomiting and decontaminate their stomach with activated charcoal to hopefully reduce the severity of clinical signs in the hours to come.
Signs that my dog ate dark chocolate
Theobromine toxicity, also known as chocolate poisoning, can take several hours to be evident in a pooch.
These clinical signs can even last for days if they’ve eaten a large quantity. Severe cases of theobromine toxicity can include seizures, muscle tremors, and even heart failure. Luckily, chocolate poisoning is rarely fatal.
Aside from the wrapper on the floor, the most common clinical signs of chocolate toxicity are:
- Increased urination
- Racing heart rate
If your dog shows any of the signs of having eaten chocolate, then you should immediately seek veterinary care and call Pet Poison Helpline to determine what to do next to help your fur baby.
What happens to dogs that eat dark chocolate?
The toxic chemical in chocolate, theobromine, is rapidly absorbed, and signs of toxicity take just a few hours to be evident in dogs that have eaten dark chocolate as theobromine remains in the bloodstream and is even reabsorbed into your pup’s blood from their bladder prolonging the ill effects.
Theobromine, the toxic component in dark chocolate, affects the heart, nervous and gastrointestinal systems causing racing heart rates, incoordination and vomiting, and diarrhea. The high-fat content in chocolate can also cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which is extremely painful for pooches.
Why dark chocolate is toxic to dogs?
The active toxin, theobromine, is a diuretic, cardiac stimulant, muscle relaxant, and blood vessel dilator.
It can be used medically, but our canine companions can’t metabolize theobromine appropriately and are thus more sensitive than us humans.
How do vets treat dark chocolate poisoning?
Treatment for dark chocolate poisoning depends on when and how much was eaten. If your dog has eaten it within 2 hours, your veterinarian will induce emesis (vomiting) and then administer activated charcoal to minimize theobromine absorption into the bloodstream.
The activated charcoal treatment will need to be repeated in some cases in order to control the continued reabsorption of theobromine. Antacids will also help with tummy upset and diarrhea.
Supportive therapy such as aggressive intravenous fluid therapy accompanied by frequent pee walks or even a urinary catheter help to encourage theobromine elimination from the body and minimize its reabsorption from the bladder.
Your DVM will also monitor your dog for an irregular heart rhythm, seizures, and elevated blood pressure, as this will determine the need for other medications, such as anti-convulsants and cardiac medications.
Your veterinarian will induce emesis if your dog ate the dark chocolate within a couple of hours and then provide intravenous fluids with many excursions to pee to promote the excretion of theobromine from the bladder.
How long is the recovery?
Recovery from chocolate poisoning will vary with the amount eaten and the presence and duration of clinical signs.
If your dog ate just a small amount, he might have an upset tummy for a few hours or even a day or two.
Larger amounts of chocolate will take longer recovery times due to the recycling of theobromine from the bladder back into the bloodstream.
Luckily chocolate poisoning is rarely fatal, but rapid treatment is essential to prevent death and reduce recovery time.
Chocolate poisoning is a true emergency for our precious canine companions, and you should contact your DVM and the Pet Poison Helpline to determine whether your dog has eaten a toxic amount in the first instance.
Luckily, chocolate toxicity is rarely fatal, and the prognosis for recovery is excellent in cases of mild poisonings, such as those with mild tummy upsets or slight restlessness. More severe signs of poisoning, such as collapse, heart failure, or seizures, carry a much poorer prognosis for recovery, and so the sooner your DVM can treat your dog, the much likelier they are to make a full and rapid recovery.