Dogs are known to eat all kinds of things if you are not careful. So, it can also happen that a dog grabs a chocolate bar and eats it. But are dogs allowed to eat chocolate, or is it dangerous?
Dogs can not eat chocolate because it contains a toxin called theobromine. Theobromine can harm the heart, respiratory, and nervous systems. The darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content. However, cocoa powder contains the most, making it particularly harmful to dogs. The caffeine found in chocolate is also toxic to dogs.
If your dog has just devoured one of your favorite chocolate bars, there are several things to remember.
Certain types of chocolate are worse than others. So it mostly depends on what kind of chocolate your dog ate, how much he ate, and how big he is.
Chocolate is one of the forbidden snacks that can have potentially severe consequences for dogs. However, if you know how to mitigate the effects, you will be well prepared in an emergency.
If your dog has consumed chocolate, the first thing you should do is call your veterinarian.
This article will discuss what you need to know about dog chocolate consumption. You will learn in which cases it becomes dangerous and what you should do.
Why Chocolate is Dangerous for Dogs
Most people like to treat themselves to a piece of chocolate. However, it has no place in a dog’s stomach.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which is toxic to dogs. It has negative effects on the central nervous system, i.e., the brain, as well as on the cardiac and respiratory systems.
According to statistics, about 25% of cases of poisoning in dogs that need to be treated in a veterinary practice are due to chocolate.
There are also many other foods that people like to eat but are toxic to dogs. These include dried fruits such as raisins, grapes, onions, garlic, and alcohol.
It rarely happens that any of these foods are fed to dogs to harm or make them sick. In most cases, dogs have helped themselves, or they have been given as treats.
Often, dog owners are unaware of the harm these foods can cause.
The chemical theobromine is an alkaloid and belongs to the same group of substances as caffeine. Both substances are found in chocolate and are toxic to dogs.
Theobromine is found in the cacao plant, from which cocoa and chocolate are made. It doesn’t taste enjoyable, but when mixed with sugar and other ingredients, it can taste very delicious.
Dogs cannot digest caffeine or theobromine as well as humans. When dogs eat it, it leads to improper processing of calcium in their bodies and some other effects.
Calcium is essential for proper muscle contraction and movement. This also includes the heart muscle.
Because of this calcium dysregulation, both theobromine and caffeine have stimulant effects on the heart muscle.
They also cause blood vessels to dilate, smooth muscles in the body, such as the intestinal muscles, to relax, and have a diuretic effect, leading to increased urination and possible dehydration.
These are why we feel jittery after a strong coffee or a lot of chocolate, can get a caffeine rush, or must go to the toilet more often.
The side effects depend on the type of chocolate consumed, the time of consumption, the dog’s size, and what happens next.
Effects can vary from mild to severe, and in the worst, but fortunately rare, cases can result in death.
In cases where chocolate poisoning leads to death, it usually involves dogs with health problems such as heart disease.
How Much Theobromine is in Chocolate?
The theobromine content in different types of chocolate varies widely. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain the highest amount, while the lowest amounts are found in white chocolate.
To give you a more accurate idea, the following list provides the approximate theobromine content in milligrams (mg) per gram (g) of chocolate:
- White chocolate: 0.009mg/g
- Milk chocolate: 2mg/g
- Dark chocolate: up to 16mg/g
- Cocoa powder: up to 26 mg/g
So, the worst offender is cocoa powder, where the theobromine content can be very high.
The lethal dose of theobromine in dogs is somewhere between 90 and 250 mg per kg of body weight.
This means that a 15 kg dog eating a 100 g bar of dark chocolate could ingest 106 mg/kg and die from it.
Anything over 12 mg/kg is likely to cause symptoms caused by the poisoning.
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog ingests such a lethal dose. If the vet can intervene quickly, the worst can often be prevented.
What Are the Effects of Chocolate On Dogs?
Symptoms depend on the type and amount of chocolate consumed and the dog’s size. If your dog ate an Oreo cookie, that’s different from a dark chocolate bar.
Chocolate’s most common side effects are vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, increased drinking and urination, restlessness, hyperactivity, and a high heart rate.
None of these side effects are enjoyable, but they are not life-threatening in mild cases.
In severe cases, blood may be in your dog’s urine or vomit. Your dog may have difficulty breathing and may have lower blood oxygen levels.
Low blood oxygen levels may be evident by a purple or blue coloration of the gums or tongue.
Other symptoms include hyperthermia, excessive body temperature, muscle tremors, and seizures.
Your dog may also experience cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, and occasionally sudden kidney failure.
Chocolate also contains other ingredients that are high in fat and sugar. These can cause stomach upset and, in some severe cases, pancreatitis.
These problems can also be severe in some dogs, especially those prone or older.
If there is a chance that your dog also ate the wrapper right away or there were whole nuts in the chocolate, there is a small risk of intestinal blockage in your dog.
So, watching for symptoms that may indicate such health problems is essential.
Can Dogs That Have Eaten Chocolate Be Treated?
Mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can often be treated symptomatically with a gentle diet and occasionally with medication from your veterinarian.
Fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhea puts dogs at risk for dehydration. It is important to avoid this by giving your dog plenty of fluids.
If your dog is normally fed dry food, it may be advisable to add some water to it. Also, encourage him to drink water, which you can also enhance with some cooked chicken.
You should not withhold food from your dog if he has diarrhea or vomiting. Instead, give him low-fat wet food in small but frequent meals.
Your veterinarian may also be able to offer a gentle diet specifically designed for dogs with upset stomachs.
In more severe cases, a stay at the veterinary hospital may be necessary. Possible treatments there include intravenous fluids (IVs), medications, blood tests, heart monitoring, and other intensive care.
Dogs with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, previous pancreatitis, or other problems may require more care and have less chance of a positive outcome.
As you can imagine, however, treatment costs can quickly skyrocket financially and emotionally for everyone involved. This is not the only reason why prevention is always better than cure.
What Should Be Done When Dogs Eat White Chocolate?
Even though the theobromine content in white chocolate is not high enough to cause viral toxicity, the sugar and fat content might still cause issues such as gastroenteritis or pancreatitis.
So, don’t be too careless even if your dog has only eaten white chocolate. Vomiting and diarrhea may still occur.
If the symptoms do not improve quickly, this can become a severe problem.
This is especially dangerous in old or young dogs. They can quickly become dehydrated, leading to organ damage and weakness.
What Should You Do if Your Dog Has Just Eaten Chocolate?
Just like eating other harmful things like chicken bones, seeing a veterinarian as soon as possible is advisable.
If a dog has eaten chocolate or anything else, it takes about 2 to 6 hours for the food to get from the stomach to the intestines.
So, if your dog has eaten a toxic amount within the last 2 hours, your veterinarian can induce your dog to vomit.
The goal of vomiting is to decontaminate the body of the chocolate and remove as much as possible from the stomach. This will reduce the amount of theobromine absorbed into the body.
However, do not attempt to make your dog vomit at home unless your veterinarian has told you to.
Most home remedies for this can cause severe damage. And if they don’t work, your vet will be out of treatment options.
Remember that some candy, cakes, or other foods like donuts may have chocolate.
Your dog may react less severely to these foods with a lower chocolate content. You should still always call your veterinarian if you have concerns.
What Happens at the Vet’s Office if the Dog Has Eaten Chocolate?
Keep the package if you know what type of chocolate your dog ate. It may be helpful to take the package to the vet’s office or at least write down the details.
It is helpful for the veterinarian to know the type of product the dog ate.
The product may contain other toxins, such as dried fruit or certain nuts. In addition, the veterinarian can see if your dog ate the packaging, parts of the packaging, or other items.
Your veterinarian will take a medical history and briefly examine your dog. At this stage, it is important to mention if your dog has had any previous problems or is on medication.
Don’t be surprised if things move quickly at the vet’s office. Your veterinarian may take your dog for an exam and then return to get more information from you.
The reason for this is that time is short.
The veterinarian will try to induce your dog to vomit with a medication. These medications usually work within a few minutes, and the effect does not last long. After 15-45 minutes, it will all be over.
Once your dog stops vomiting, your vet may offer him a small amount of food to settle his stomach. It depends on the vet and the dog. Not all dogs want to eat when they are feeling bad.
You should offer your dog a gentle diet for 24 to 48 hours and monitor him for any problems.
The caffeine in chocolate is also absorbed by the bladder lining. So, make sure your dog gets outside regularly to encourage frequent urination.
Your dog may still show mild signs of intoxication down the road. This is most likely gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.
I Don’t Know When My Dog Ate Chocolate
If your dog ate the chocolate more than 4 hours ago, it usually does little good to make him vomit.
However, if it is possible to happen within that time, and especially if you think your dog ingested a lot of theobromine, it might still be worth trying.
Your vet may prescribe activated charcoal, which you can mix into your dog’s food or administer via a syringe.
This is supposed to bind toxins in the gastrointestinal tract and thus reduce the amount absorbed.
Please note that such activated charcoal is just any charcoal. It is a dedicated veterinary preparation. So do not give your dog just any charcoal.
It can take up to 10 hours for the theobromine to absorb into the dog’s bloodstream fully. These hours are crucial for treatment.
Once it has left the dog’s stomach, there is nothing the veterinarian can do to remove it.
Remember that even if your dog doesn’t seem to have any side effects immediately, it won’t be safe for at least 24 hours.
This is because it takes that long for the theobromine to be fully absorbed and for symptoms to show.
Feed your dog a low-fat diet during this time. Make sure he has access to fresh water and can go outside frequently to visit the bathroom. Monitor him closely for symptoms.
If you are concerned in the next 24-48 hours, call your veterinarian for advice.
Contact your vet immediately if your dog shows symptoms such as hyperexcitability, muscle tremors, seizures, or collapse.
These are poisoning symptoms and require urgent diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment by your veterinarian.
How to Decrease the Risk of Dogs Eating Chocolate
The easiest way to ensure you never run into this situation is to ensure there is no chocolate lying around for your dogs to get to and devour.
This means that nothing should be left on kitchen countertops or the living room table, and cabinet doors should be closed as well.
It’s often kids who leave chocolate out in the open. Ensure your kids know to lock away their chocolate treats, especially around holidays like Christmas or Easter.
And make sure that any gifts under the Christmas tree that contain chocolate are kept out of reach until the gift-giving time. Dogs can also chew on the chocolate advent calendar.
Always assume the worst. Even dogs who are otherwise exemplary will eat things they shouldn’t if they can get to them.
It’s also essential that all family members know that chocolate is toxic and that potentially severe side effects can result. When everyone knows, it’s much easier to keep dogs safe.
If it still happens that your dog has eaten chocolate, please call your veterinarian immediately and discuss the incident.
Hopefully, he will tell you not to worry, but he is the best judge of whether this is the case or if treatment is necessary.