Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

 

Is chocolate toxic to dogs?

Yes, chocolate is toxic to dogs. While rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion can result in significant illness. Chocolate is toxic because it contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine. Theobromine is the main toxin in chocolate and is very similar to caffeine. Both chemicals are used medicinally as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and a smooth muscle relaxant. Dogs cannot metabolize theobromine and caffeine as well as people can. That is why dogs are more sensitive to the chemicals’ effects.

  

How much chocolate is poisonous to a dog?

 

The amount of toxic theobromine varies with the type of chocolate. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to dogs. Baking chocolate and gourmet dark chocolate are highly concentrated and contain 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce. Common milk chocolate only contains about 44-58 mg/ounce. White chocolate rarely poses any threat of chocolate poisoning with only 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate. Even if the amount ingested is not a toxicity concern, dogs can still become ill from the fat and sugar in chocolate. These can cause pancreatitis in severe cases or in dogs that have more sensitive stomachs. 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. 

 

What are the clinical signs of chocolate poisoning?

 

Clinical signs depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. For many dogs, the most common clinical signs are vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, and racing heart rate. In severe cases, symptoms can include muscle tremors, seizures, and heart failure.

Complications, such as developing aspiration pneumonia from vomiting, can make the prognosis for chocolate poisoning worse. When in doubt, immediate treatment by your veterinarian is recommended if a poisonous amount of chocolate is ingested.

 

"Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning can take hours to develop and last for days."

 

Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning can take several hours to develop. Signs due to large exposures can last for days due to the long half-life of theobromine. This means that it remains in the bloodstream for a longer period. Theobromine may be re-absorbed from the bladder, so intravenous fluids and frequent walks to encourage urination may be necessary. It is important to seek medical attention by calling your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline as soon as you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate.

 

What should I do if my dog eats chocolate?

Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline to see if a poisonous amount of chocolate was ingested. If a toxic amount is ingested, you should have your dog examined by a veterinarian immediately. The sooner treatment begins, the better your dog's prognosis.

What is the treatment for chocolate poisoning?

 

Treatment depends on the amount and type of chocolate eaten. If treated early, decontamination including inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal to prevent absorption of theobromine into the body may be all that is necessary. Treatments of activated charcoal may be repeated to reduce the continued resorption and recirculation of theobromine.

 

It is very common to provide supportive treatments such as intravenous fluid therapy to help stabilize a dog and promote theobromine excretion. All dogs ingesting a toxic amount of chocolate should be closely monitored for any signs of agitation, vomiting, diarrhea, nervousness, irregular heart rhythm, and high blood pressure. Medication to treat restlessness and other signs may also be necessary

 

I saw a treat made for dogs that contains chocolate. Isn't this dangerous?

 

Many gourmet dog treats use carob as chocolate substitute.

 

"Carob looks similar to chocolate and the two are often confused."

Carob looks similar to chocolate and the two are often confused. Some specialty dog bakeries will use a small amount of milk chocolate in treats. Since the amount of theobromine is typically low, this may be safe for most dogs. However, most veterinarians recommend that you avoid giving your dog chocolate in any form. 

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, MN is available 24/7 for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $65 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Renee Schmid, DVM & Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT Pet Poison Helpline; Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, Associate Director of Veterinary Services

© Copyright 2021 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.