Can Dogs Eat Chocolate? Myth or Truth?

Dogs are notorious explorers, scavengers, and occasionally destroyers. Generally the things they get into in the house (shoes, rugs, toys) will not harm them, only your wardrobe or household items. However, there are some human foods that can be extremely dangerous for dogs. One of the most commonly ingested foods that is toxic to dogs is chocolate.

Chocolate IS toxic for dogs, depending on quantity and type

Chocolate and all products that come from the cacao plant contain substances called methylxanthines which are toxic to dogs. The two most dangerous compounds in chocolate are caffeine and theobromine. Humans can metabolize these compounds so they are not dangerous to us, but dogs metabolize them much more slowly, leading to toxic levels in their bodies. A good rule to follow is “the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous,” meaning that baking chocolate, dark chocolate, and cocoa powder have higher and more dangerous levels of these compounds than white chocolate.

Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Chocolate poisoning can lead to many illnesses in dogs and can potentially be fatal if too much is ingested. Symptoms usually take 6 to 12 hours to manifest and can last for up to 72 hours. The wide range of symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, increased energy and body temperature, low blood pressure, panting, pacing, and muscle tremors. The first symptom to appear and one that indicates the onset of chocolate poisoning is hyperactivity. Very high doses can even lead to seizures, internal bleeding, or a heart attack.

What to do if your dog has eaten chocolate

The faster you react to chocolate poisoning, the greater the chance that your dog will experience only minor symptoms and that he or she will not experience further complications. This means comfort for your dog, lower vet bills, and a greater peace of mind for you! The first thing you should do in any health emergency involving a pet is to call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680.

If your dog has not already vomited, your vet will tell you to induce vomiting. This should be done even if you are not completely positive your dog has consumed chocolate, but you suspect that they have. Vomiting will be most effective at removing the toxins from your dog’s body if done within two hours of ingestion. You can give your dog hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, one tablespoon per 20 pounds of body weight. After they vomit, do not let your dog drink water or eat any food until the vet has performed their tests.

Your vet will perform a complete physical exam to find out if your dog has overdosed on chocolate. They may perform an ECG to test for irregularities in the heart and take a blood sample to test the levels of theobromine and caffeine. If the tests indicate that your dog has indeed been poisoned, treatment includes IVs and fluids to help flush the toxins from the dog. Activated charcoal is a medicine used to make sure the toxins do not enter the blood system. Again, the faster you act in the face of potential chocolate poisoning, the less likely these expensive tests and treatments will have to be performed and the happier you and your dog will be!

How much chocolate is toxic

The severity of chocolate poisoning depends on the size of the dog, the kind of chocolate, and how much chocolate was eaten. Pet MD has a Chocolate Toxicity Meter where you can input the information of those three variables (size, kind of chocolate, and amount) and it will tell you the levels of caffeine and theobromine that are likely in your dog’s system.

Baking chocolate has the highest concentrations of these toxic compounds. As little as 0.1 ounce per pound of body weight can be toxic. With semi-sweet chocolate, consumption of 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight can lead to mild toxicity and severe toxicity is caused by one ounce per pound. For milk chocolate, two ounces per pound of body weight cause severe toxic symptoms and 0.7 ounces per pound lead to mild toxic symptoms. With white chocolate, the amount that can be consumed is even higher since the levels of caffeine and theobromine are lower.

Let’s try to put these numbers into perspective with familiar chocolates. A single Hershey’s Kiss weighs 0.16 ounces and a single Dove Promise weighs 1.3 ounces. This means that one little Hershey’s Kiss could be toxic to a small dog! Dogs are not known for stopping themselves when full, so it is very possible for a dog to consume an entire bag or box of chocolates (probably some of the wrappers, too) if that is what he finds in the house.

A good pet owner loves their animal and wants to be sure they are healthy and well taken care of at all times. No one wants to see their dog suffer, especially if it is due to negligence on the owner’s part. Therefore, be sure to keep all chocolate products, and really all human food, out of reach of your dog and in a place that they cannot possibly access. During Easter and Halloween, do not leave your baskets of chocolate around the house, but put them away. Keeping them out of sight will help your dog and may also help you to eat a little less! Remember, if your dog does eat chocolate or even if you just suspect that they have, remain calm, react quickly, and call your vet immediately. A fast acting owner can make a huge difference for your pooch!