Chocolate Poisoning

March 29th 2018

By Dirk Dekens, DVM

We hear warnings all the time about how bad too much chocolate can be for our health. It’s bad for your teeth. It has too many calories. How does the saying go? Straight from the lips to the hips?! Oh but it sure tastes good. And in moderation, it’s not a problem.

We are now hearing about the benefits of chocolate consumed in moderation, especially dark chocolate, which is packed with antioxidants. However, what may be a nice treat for us humans can be bad for your pets! We’re not talking bad teeth and unwanted pounds. It can be lethal!

I recently saw a case of chocolate toxicosis (poisoning), so I'll take this opportunity to shed light on the dangers. Halloween is just around the corner, which means chocolate will be everywhere! It’s a time of the year when we vets see spikes in chocolate poisoning, the effects of which can be traumatic for both the pets and their human companions.

Why is chocolate poisonous for dogs?

Chocolate is toxic because of a substance called theobromine. While safe for humans this is awful for pets. The more chocolate liquor (the liquid that results from grinding the hulled cacao beans) there is in a product, the more theobromine there is.
What is the worst chocolate for dogs?
Baking chocolate is the worst for pets as it contains approximately 390mg/oz of theobromine. Semisweet chocolate is next with about 150mg/ounce, followed by milk chocolate, which contains around 44mg/oz.

How much chocolate is toxic to dogs?

To give an idea of what this means, you only need nine mg per pound of dog for mild toxicity signs to occur and up to 18 mg per pound of dog for severe signs. So for a 20 pound dog, less than half an ounce of baking chocolate could be visibly toxic!

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs

Signs of toxicity from theobromine include: vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, increased heart rate, racing heart rhythm which can progress to abnormal rhythms and death in severe cases.

Chocolate poisoning treatment

If your pet has consumed any amount of chocolate, seek veterinary attention immediately. Your pet will be given medication to make them vomit. The medication must be given within in an hour (preferably less) from the time of ingestion. Another medication will be given to prevent absorption of anything left in the gastrointestinal tract. In severe cases pets will require hospitalization and monitoring. It can take nearly four days for the effects of chocolate to work its way out of the system.

To learn more about the top ten pet toxins vist the ASPCA website.

In the meantime, please keep any chocolate products out of reach from your pets!

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