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What happens when a dog eats chocolate

The essentials

  • Chocolate toxicity can be fatal if untreated — Get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as you discover they’ve eaten chocolate.
  • Watch for signs of chocolate toxicity — Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, elevated heart rate, general restlessness, and potential kidney failure.
  • Chocolate has varying toxicity levels — No chocolate is safe, but dark chocolate has higher levels of the toxic molecule theobromine compared to milk chocolate or white chocolate.

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine , both of which can speed up your dog’s heart rate and stimulate their nervous system. Too many of these undigestable chemicals and your dog could have a serious, and even fatal, reaction.

Chocolate toxicity symptoms can vary depending on your dog, their weight, and how much and the type of chocolate they eat. They may not show any immediate symptoms at all — it can also take up to two hours for any symptoms to appear.

How much chocolate is poisonous to dogs?

Different chocolate products have different levels of theobromine and caffeine. The darkness and bitterness of chocolate determine how dangerous it is.

For instance, cocoa powder is the most toxic to dogs because it contains the highest levels of theobromine. White chocolate is the least toxic, containing the lowest levels of theobromine. Here are a few types of chocolate listed in order of theobromine content.

Chocolate toxicity from most to least toxic

Type of chocolate Amount of theobromine in milligrams per ounce (mg/oz)
Cocoa powder (most toxic) 800 mg/oz
Unsweetened baking chocolate 400-450 mg/oz
Semisweet or dark chocolate 130-185 mg/oz
Milk chocolate 45-60 mg/oz
White chocolate (least toxic) 0.25 mg/oz

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity

Mild symptoms of chocolate toxicity can occur when a dog consumes one ounce of chocolate per pound of body weight. An average Hershey’s chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces, so if your dog ate one bar of chocolate, it can still cause severe cases of toxicity and is an emergency — especially for smaller dogs.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning usually appear within six to 12 hours after ingestion and may last up to 72 hours. Here are symptoms for pet owners to watch for after your dog has eaten chocolate:

Also learn to recognize when your dog is anxious, as these may indicate they’re uncomfortable and not feeling well. This is especially helpful to know in case your dog eats chocolate (or any toxic substance) when you aren’t around.

Signs of chocolate poisoning may also be seen in other tell-tale behaviors of being in pain, including licking lips, yawning, tensing of the face or body, pacing, and more.

What to do if your dog ate chocolate

Reactions to chocolate toxicity can depend on each individual dog, their size, and the amount and type of chocolate they eat. Depending on the situation, your vet may want you to bring your dog in for monitoring or treatment.

Even if you’re not sure how much chocolate your dog ate, you’ll still want to contact your veterinarian. A dog’s digestive system processes chemicals differently than humans — the toxic chemical theobromine takes 18 hours for half of it to be absorbed and digested in your dog’s system. So, the effects may not appear immediately.

🚨 In serious cases, chocolate toxicity can lead to death. Sudden death can occur from chocolate poisoning in dogs with heart conditions and elderly dogs. If your dog ate chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately or call the Pet Poison Helpline (855-213-6680) for advice. 

Treatment for chocolate toxicity

Treatment can look different depending on your dog’s specific scenario. If caught early, your vet may induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal to help prevent your dog from absorbing the theobromine.

If your dog isn’t improving or has eaten a large quantity of chocolate, extra treatments of activated charcoal may be repeated to reduce resorption and recirculation of theobromine through their body. Other common treatments include intravenous fluids to stabilize your dog and encourage their body to excrete the theobromine.

Chocolate is not safe for dogs and can be fatal. While some types of chocolate have less theobromine than others, it’s best to keep this food away from your dog. If your dog is prone to picking up dropped food, and you think they may have ingested chocolate, watch for signs and symptoms of stress and potential poisoning. Contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately.

Frequently asked questions

What makes chocolate toxic to dogs?

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic for dogs and can lead to cardiac symptoms and nervous system failure. It’s also made with caffeine, which can also cause cardiac issues in animals.

What amount of chocolate is toxic to a dog?

Ingesting 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate per 10 pounds of body weight, or 3.5 ounces of milk chocolate per 10 pounds of body weight can be toxic to a dog. For example, a standard-size Hershey’s bar can be fatal for a small dog.

How long do dogs react after eating chocolate?

Symptoms can show up as early as six hours after eating chocolate and last as long as 72 hours. It’s important to call your vet as soon as you discover your dog has eaten chocolate. The earlier it’s treated, the better your dog’s chances are.

Are there any chocolates that are safe for dogs?

While no chocolate made for humans is safe for dogs, there’s a non-toxic chocolate alternative called carob with a similar taste.

Will one piece of chocolate hurt my dog?

It depends on the type of chocolate. Different types of chocolate have varying levels of toxicity. But, if your dog eats one very small amount of chocolate, like a chocolate chip or a Hershey’s Kiss, they will most likely be fine. But if your dog eats more than that, you’ll want to contact your vet immediately.

How long have people known that chocolate is bad for dogs?

The first report of chocolate toxicity in dogs was reported in the 1940s.