It is a well-known fact that eating chocolate can be dangerous for dogs. Being a pet parent can be difficult, and despite the best supervision and preventative measures, accidents can happen. It only takes a second for a dog to ingest a piece of candy or a chocolate chip cookie. If your dog somehow snagged a bit of chocolate, don’t panic just yet.
We know that chocolate is a toxic food for dogs, but just how dangerous is it? The answer depends on factors such as the size and breed of the dog as well as the quantity and type of chocolate they consumed.
Chocolate contains toxic components called methylxanthines. In particular, the methylxanthines in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine. Chocolate and chocolate products like cakes also contain a lot of sugar and fat which can lead to digestive upset, and in severe cases, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
The symptoms of toxicity vary between dogs, and not all dogs will have all of the symptoms. Symptoms will usually be seen within the first 6-12 hours after ingestion of the chocolate, and in severe cases, can last for up to 3-4 days. Commonly seen symptoms with toxic amounts of chocolate can include:
Hyperactivity or excitability
A rapid heart rate
Abnormal heart rhythms
When the amount of methylxanthines is low but your pup has still indulged in too much sugar or fat, it can lead to gut upset. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or discomfort, and inappetence.
In most cases, these symptoms will be self-limiting, but if they are severe or continue for longer than 24 hours, it is recommended for your dog to be treated by your vet, as pancreatitis could be a complication.
Chocolate toxicity depends on the amount of chocolate, the type of chocolate, and the size of the dog. A pet that has other conditions will also sometimes need to be monitored more closely than an otherwise healthy pet.
In general, darker chocolate will contain more theobromine and caffeine and thus be more toxic than milk chocolate, as it contains more cocoa. White chocolate has an insignificant amount of cocoa, but can still cause a gut upset resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.
It can be quite tricky to work out the precise amounts of theobromine and caffeine in a particular piece of chocolate to find out whether or not the amount your dog ate is toxic. Theobromine toxicity has been reported from levels of about 9mg theobromine per pound of bodyweight for light symptoms, to 18mg theobromine per pound of body weight for more serious symptoms. Theobromine levels are roughly calculated at about 44mg/ounce for milk chocolate, 150mg/ounce for semisweet chocolate, and 390mg/ounce for baking chocolate.
Using a chocolate toxicity calculator is a very handy tool and can make it a lot easier to figure out whether you need to worry about toxicity or not.
It's always best to talk to a veterinarian if your dog could have eaten a potentially toxic amount of chocolate. They will be able to advise you on the best next steps and help you figure out if the amount of chocolate your dog ate is expected to be toxic for them.
It's important to not wait until your dog shows symptoms, but to try to prevent toxicity symptoms in the first place, as this will ensure your pet has the best possible chance of making a complete recovery. If the amount of chocolate your dog ate is not expected to cause toxicity, the vet might recommend you monitor your pup for any further symptoms. If the amount of chocolate consumed by your dog is potentially toxic, you will need to take your pet to a vet as soon as possible. This might include having to go to an emergency veterinary hospital.
Treatment will depend on how long ago your dog ate chocolate and whether or not there are any visible symptoms. The treatment process may involve making the dog vomit, flushing out the stomach through a procedure called gastric lavage, administering activated charcoal, or providing supportive and symptomatic care for more severe symptoms.
Unfortunately, many dogs ingest chocolate around celebratory holidays like Christmas or Easter. This means that your regular vet might not be open. That’s just one reason why 24/7 telehealth visits for pets are such an ideal option. With Pawp, there’s no appointment necessary and no wait. Contact trusted, experienced vets at any time, and they’ll help steer you and your dog in the right direction.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Dr. Mari, DVM at Pawp