What Should You Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate?
by Jane Meggitt - 5/27/19
Death by chocolate sounds like a punchline, but for canines, the potential is quite real. Unfortunately, many dog owners are unaware of the dangers of chocolate toxicity in their pet, and may share bits of the candy with their four-legged friend. Even if you know not to give your dog chocolate, there’s always the possibility your pet will steal any such items left on a table or countertop. If you know your dog has consumed chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately. Based on the information you provide, your vet will either tell you to go to an emergency veterinary hospital or monitor your dog for signs of illness.
Why Chocolate is Dangerous for Dogs
Theobromine is the canine culprit in chocolate. Humans metabolize this chemical – which is similar to caffeine – without issue, but that’s not the case with dogs. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which dogs should never eat. The two chemicals stimulate the nervous system and elevate the heart rate.
How Much Chocolate Will Kill a Dog?
Just how much chocolate might prove fatal to your pet? It depends on the size of the dog, his general health and age. A large breed dog might eat the same amount of chocolate as a toy breed, but the results are very different. The large dog might not show any ill effects, while the little dog might collapse and die. Older dogs, puppies and those diagnosed with cardiac conditions are more vulnerable to death by chocolate than healthy animals in their prime.
Much also depends on the type of chocolate the dog consumes. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. White chocolate, which contains little theobromine, shouldn’t cause chocolate toxicity, but cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet and dark chocolates are dangerous. Milk chocolate is less of a threat, unless the dog eats a fair amount of it.
Chocolate Toxicity Signs
A dog with mild chocolate toxicity might simply throw up what he’s eaten, but dogs with more serious cases of chocolate poisoning will become quite ill. Tell your vet the type of chocolate your dog ate and how much you think he consumed. If the vet is unfamiliar with your dog, let them know the animal’s size and weight. Veterinary practices have chocolate calculators on hand, so the vet will have a good idea if the amount of chocolate consumed by an animal of your dog’s size is likely to produce serious consequences. Your vet may ask you to monitor your pet for signs of poisoning if your dog did not eat a great deal of chocolate. Signs of chocolate toxicity in canines include:
- Distended abdomen
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle tremors
- Increased thirst
- Urinary increase
It can take several hours for signs of chocolate poisoning to develop in dogs after ingestion. If death occurs, it is generally due to a cardiac arrhythmia – an abnormal heart rate – respiratory failure or central nervous system dysfunction.
Chocolate Poisoning Treatment
If your dog is suffering from chocolate toxicity, the veterinarian will likely induce vomiting to get the substance out of the animal as quickly as possible. The dog is then given activated charcoal to block theobromine absorption, with the charcoal administered every few hours. If severely affected, your pet is given intravenous fluids to encourage excretion of remaining theobromine. Theobromine has a long half-life, so symptoms of chocolate poisoning can last for several days. Side effects are also treated, and a dog exhibiting a rapid heart rate may receive medication to return his heart rate to normal.
Chocolate Poisoning Prognosis
The good news is that most dogs treated promptly for chocolate toxicity will pull through. If your dog suffered a serious bout of chocolate toxicity, he may need to remain in the veterinary hospital for several days before returning home.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, The Alternative Daily, nj.com, The Happy Cat Site and The Nest Pets.