Chocolate Toxicity In Dogs

Last Updated 15 APRIL 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

Ahh, chocolate. Ever since its invention in 450BC, humans have adored chocolate in every form. From hot chocolate to cakes to Easter eggs, chocolate has permeated throughout almost every culinary culture on the planet.

But as harmless as chocolate may be for us, the same can't be said for our furry friends.

- Why is chocolate toxic?

- Symptoms of Chocolate toxicity

- Dark vs Light Chocolate

- Chocolate toxicity calculator

- What to do if your pet eats chocolate

- Pancreatitis from Chocolate

Chocolate Toxicity

Why Is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs? Chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats because it contains chemicals known as methylxanthines. In particular, the methylxanthines chocolate contains are theobromine and caffeine. Both of these are toxic to cats and dogs because they can't metabolise these compounds as well as humans can.

What are the signs of chocolate toxicity?

Both caffeine and theobromine produce similar effects, with the theobromine effects lasting much longer than those of caffeine. Symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Bradycardia (speeding heart rhythm progressing to an abnormal beat)
  • Death in severe cases

The darker the chocolate, the higher the toxicity

There are many levels of chocolate dilution: white, milk, dark milk, dark, bitter black, etc. Generally, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content, which means the more theobromine and caffeine there is.

White chocolate contains virtually zero theobromine, and only poses a risk due to its high fat content. Milk chocolate contains 44 mg per ounce of theobromine, and dark chocolate contains around 390 mg per ounce.

In order to calculate whether your dog has ingested a toxic level of theobromine, you will need to know your dog's weight, the darkness of the chocolate, and how many grams were likely consumed. If it is not clear how much chocolate was actually consumed, the largest possible amount should be determined based on how much chocolate is missing.

Chocolate Toxicity Calculator

Calculator provided by PetCare Pet Insurance

What to do if your dog ingests chocolate

1. Do a quick calculation with a chocolate toxicity calculator. This will help you determine the level of risk and therefore urgency. Please note that if your dog is showing symptoms, the first step should be to get your dog to a vet right away.

2. If your dog has only just eaten the chocolate within 10 minutes, it may be possible to induce vomiting. We suggest phoning your vet for advice on how to safely make your dog vomit.

3. If your dog ingested the chocolate more than 10 minutes prior, AND it is a toxic dose, hospitalization and support are needed.

It can take four days for the theobromine to work its way out of your dog’s system. This means that your dog may exhibit signs for a few days after ingestion, and ongoing hospitalisation may be required.

Chocolate and Pancreatitis

Aside from theobromine and caffeine toxicity, chocolate poses another significant risk to pets due to its high fat content. A sudden high fat meal (such as demolishing a block of chocolate) can create a deadly disease called pancreatitis.

The high level of fat stimulates the pancreas to work overtime as it attempts to secrete enough digestive enzymes to metabolise it. This leads to an inflamed and extremely painful pancreas. Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are just the beginning of this illness - it may soon progress to infection, fever, and irreversible organ damage. Dogs who suffer from pancreatitis may never be able to eat fatty treats again without a flare up.

Read more about pancreatitis in dogs

With all this in mind, you and your fur baby will be able to have a happy, healthy Easter free from any unexpected vet visits!

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