Unlike cats, which lack the ability to taste sweetness, dogs find chocolate just as appealing as humans. But while the dark treat can be a euphoric delight for us, it can be poisonous to canines.
That’s not to say that all dogs get poisoned by chocolate or that a candy bar is enough to necessarily kill your pet canine. The dose makes the poison. The weight of the dog also matters, so large canines should be able to handle a small amount of chocolate whereas smaller breeds might run into serious trouble.
Although you shouldn’t panic if your dog accidentally ingests chocolate, candy and other chocolate sweets should never be offered to dogs. Generally, you should treat chocolate as toxic to dogs and should make an effort to keep it away from them.
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Why chocolate can be dangerous to dogs
Among the many chemical compounds found in dark chocolate and cocoa is theobromine. Formerly known as xantheose, theobromine is a bitter alkaloid compound that acts as a mild stimulant for the human body.
The consumption of theobromine is generally associated with positive effects, such as reduced blood pressure, improved focus and concentration, and enhanced mood. That’s in humans. In dogs, theobromine, as well as caffeine, raise the heart rate and can overstimulate the nervous system.
Because dogs can’t break down, or metabolize, theobromine as well as humans can, the compound is toxic to dogs, over a certain threshold, depending on their body weight.
Mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity occur when a canine consumes 20 mg of theobromine per kilogram per body weight. Cardiac symptoms occur at around 40 to 50 mg/kg and dangerous seizures occur at doses greater than 60 mg/kg.
This explains why a candy bar may cause a chihuahua (average weight 2 kg) to run in circles while Great Dane (average weight 70 kg) might feel just fine.
Darker, purer varieties of chocolate tend to be the most dangerous because they contain the highest concentration of theobromine. According to the USDA nutrient database, various chocolate/cocoa products contain the following amounts of theobromine per 100 grams;
- Unsweetened cocoa powder: 2634 mg;
- Baking chocolate (unsweetened): 1297 mg;
- Dark chocolate (70% cocoa): 802 mg;
- Mars Twix (twin bar): 39.9 mg;
- White chocolate: 0 mg;
As a rule of thumb, chocolate poisoning in dogs generally occurs after the ingestion of 3.5g of dark chocolate for every 1kg they weigh, or 14g of milk chocolate for every kilogram.
Signs that your dog may be suffering from chocolate poisoning
Chocolate poisoning mainly affects the heart, central nervous system, and kidneys. The symptoms of theobromine toxicity usually appear within 6 to 12 hours after your dog eats too much chocolate and may last up to 72 hours. These include:
- increased urination,
- elevated or abnormal heart rate,
- and in extreme cases collapse and death.
Can chocolate kill dogs?
In short, yes. However, fatalities in dogs due to chocolate poisoning are very rare. According to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service from the U.S., out of 1,000 dog chocolate toxicity cases recorded in its database, only five dogs died.
What do if your dog eats chocolate
If you caught your dog eating chocolate or you suspect this may have happened, it is best to call your veterinarian and ask for advice on how to proceed going forward. Based on your dog’s size and the amount and kind of chocolate ingested, the veterinarian may recommend monitoring your dog for any symptoms of poisoning or ask that you immediately come to the clinic.
If there are good reasons to believe potentially dangerous chocolate poisoning may be imminent, and as long as your pet consumed the chocolate less than two hours ago, the veterinarian may induce vomiting.
Sometimes, the dog may be given doses of activated charcoal, which helps to flush toxins out of the body before they are absorbed into the bloodstream.
In very extreme cases of poisoning, the veterinarian might administer medications and/or intravenous fluids to provide additional treatment.
Keep chocolate away from dogs
There’s no reason to believe chocolate isn’t as tasty to dogs as it is to humans. Unfortunately, many dog owners are ignorant to the fact that chocolate can poison their pets and intentionally offer chocolate snacks as a treat.
Usually, this isn’t a problem for very large breeds when they ingest small amounts of chocolate, but smaller dogs can suffer greatly and even die in extreme cases due to theobromine poisoning.
If you are aware that chocolate can poison your pet, you have no excuse to keep sweets accessible. It is advisable to keep any chocolate items on a high shelf, preferably in a closed-door pantry. Guests and children should be kindly reminded that chocolate is bad for dogs and that they shouldn’t offer chocolate treats regardless of how much the pet begs for them.
Most chocolate poisoning in dogs occurs around major holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or Valentine’s Day, so these are times when you should be extra careful.
- Elena Motivans, Venom versus poison: what is the difference?, 2023
- Effects of theobromine and caffeine on mood and vigilance - PubMed
- Mihai Andrei, Ruby chocolate: not just color, but actually a different type of chocolate, 2021
- Tibi Puiu, Why 'detox' doesn't work -- a diet fad and marketing ploy exposed by science, 2018
- Jennifer Huizen, Activated charcoal, 2020