Effect Of Chocolate On Dogs

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Your dog will always be looking for treats from you or around the house, but you have to be extra careful that he never gets his paws on any chocolate. Read on to find out why chocolate is bad for your dog, what types of chocolates are the worst, signs and symptoms to watch out for if your dog has eaten any, and what to do in the event.

Labrador retriever with white powder around its mouth

Labrador Retriever; Pixabay

Why Is Chocolate Poisonous For Your Dog?

Chocolates contain theobromine and caffeine, both of which are stimulants. While humans are able to digest chocolates with ease, the digestive systems of dogs are different and aren’t able to handle moderate to large amounts of the sweet, chocolatey goodness.

The effects on your dog will depend on a few things: the amount and the type of chocolate ingested, your dog’s age & weight, and any health conditions he might have. Understandably, a younger, healthier dog’s body will be able to handle chocolate better than, say, an older dog with a heart condition.

Regardless, you should avoid giving your dog any amount of chocolate at all, even a little bit can make him ill.

What Types Of Chocolate Are Most Harmful For Your Dog?

Not all chocolates are created equal, the key factor is how much theobromine it contains. Cocoa powder is the most toxic because it has the highest theobromine content among the different kinds of chocolate available commercially. On the other end of the spectrum, white chocolate is the least toxic. Here are the types of chocolate listed from most to least theobromine content:

  • Cocoa powder (most toxic)
  • Baking chocolate – 0.1 ounce per pound of bodyweight is lethal; a single one-ounce (30 grams) square of baking chocolate is enough to poison a 10-pound dog.
  • Dark chocolate – 0.3 ounces per pound of bodyweight is lethal.
  • Milk or semi-sweet chocolate – 1 ounce per pound of bodyweight is lethal; the average chocolate bar has 2-3 ounces of milk chocolate, so it’ll take about 3 bars of milk chocolate to poison a 10-pound dog.
  • White chocolate (least toxic) – 200 ounces of white chocolate per pound of bodyweight will be lethal for your dog, that’s a lot of chocolate.

A “lethal dose” is one that will cause death, but the dose at which you will see signs & symptoms in your dog is lower, generally about one-third to one-half of the lethal dose.

Signs & Symptoms To Watch Out For

Theobromine and caffeine primarily affect the brain, the heart and the kidneys; therefore, most signs & symptoms will be related to these 3 organs.

The signs of chocolate poisoning will not be immediate, you’ll most likely see them within 4-12 hours of ingestion, but keep a close watch for up to 24 hours. The signs and symptoms can include the following:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • increased urination
  • extreme thirst
  • restlessness or irritability
  • increased body temperature and heart rate
  • muscle tremors
  • rapid breathing
  • shaking or seizures
  • collapse

Important note: if your dog has eaten a large amount of chocolate, or any amount of chocolate with a high theobromine content, and especially if you don’t know how much chocolate he’s eaten, don’t wait the for 4-12 hours to see if any signs or symptoms will show up. Act immediately.

What To Do If Your Dog Has Eaten Chocolate

If you know or you think your dog may have eaten chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately, or call ASPCA’s Poison Control Hotline (888-426-4435; open 24 hours a day).

If your vet determines that your dog is in no immediate danger, you might be asked to monitor his signs & symptoms at home and call back if his condition progresses. On the other hand, if your vet determines that this is an emergency situation, he will most likely ask you to come in.

There is a short window of 2 hours after your dog ingests the chocolate to induce vomiting. After the 2 hours, the chocolate will most probably have been absorbed from your dog’s stomach into his blood and inducing vomiting will be of no benefit. Your vet will be able to induce the vomiting once you get there. However, if your vet is a long drive away, or if the 2-hour period is nearly up, a home remedy to induce vomiting in your dog is hydrogen peroxide – 1 tablespoon (15ml) per 20 pounds of bodyweight. You can use a dropper to give it to him by mouth, or you can put the hydrogen peroxide on or around some treats, but please discuss this option with your vet before attempting it. Once your dog vomits, don’t give him any food or water.

At the vet, your dog may be given IV fluids and/or other meds such as activated charcoal, and will be observed for 24-72 hours. Activated charcoal prevents the contents of the stomach from being absorbed into the blood, and is most beneficial if used within the first 2 hours of poison ingestion. It may be a good idea to keep this at home in an emergency medical kit.

Other Tips To Prevent Your Dog From Eating Chocolate

Secure the chocolate. Keep all chocolate and chocolate-containing products out of your dog’s reach, such as in a cupboard or a high shelf. Be careful during the holidays and any parties that chocolate is not left on tabletops or in low-hanging Christmas stockings, where your dog might be able to reach them.

Train your dog.  For his own safety, your dog should know a command such as “stop” or “leave it”. This will come in very handy in certain situations, such as if you catch him in the act of eating chocolate. On the other hand, you should also train your dog to be comfortable in an enclosed space such as a playpen, this is for times that you know you won’t be able to keep an eye on him (during a party at your house, for example).

Instruct all household members and guests. You may think that everyone understands not to give chocolates to dogs, but this is not always the case. Be extra cautious, and explain what treats are not allowed for your dog to everyone who enters your house, especially little kids.

If you want to learn more on dog safety in your home, the DOGPWND recommends the Dog-Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook for clearly-written, step-by-step directions for handling common doggy ailments, including a chapter on emergencies in the home.

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