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can my pet have this

What happens when a dog eats chocolate?

Everything you need to know about chocolate toxicity in dogs, including when it’s an emergency

Updated August 26, 2021

Created By

Christy Caplan, CVT,

The essentials

  • Chocolate toxicity may be fatal Chocolate poisoning is one of the most common cases seen at veterinary hospitals.
  • If you suspect your dog ingested chocolate, call your vet or a local emergency vet hospital If your dog is anxious, panting, or having seizures, then skip the call and head straight to your vet.
  • Know the signs of chocolate toxicity and don’t ignore even subtle signs Remember that even behavior like licking lips and turning their head away from meals may indicate nausea.

Dogs eat many things they shouldn’t, and their natural curiosity gets them in a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, chocolate (especially baking chocolate) is poisonous to your dog and is the most common toxic ingestion in pets. The primary toxin is theobromine, a methylxanthine found in cocoa, baker’s chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate. With this in mind, the holiday season and Christmas is when pet owners need to be extra vigilant (think chocolate candy and baking supplies).

Also, pet owners need to be aware of another type of cocoa found in their garden.  Cocoa mulch is beneficial to plants and flowers, and its aroma may be interesting for your dogs. If this is an issue, it’s better to simply not use this ‘garden chocolate’ so your dog is set up for success.

Why is chocolate poisonous?

Dogs can’t digest the substance theobromine, and even tiny quantities may be toxic. In addition, theobromine speeds up the heart rate and stimulates the nervous system in dogs.

Which types of chocolate are an issue for dogs? 

Pet owners need to be concerned about five types, and these should be locked away in cabinets and out of reach. Dogs might get very sick if they eat large quantities, like a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar — They also shouldn’t consume chocolate cake, ice cream, or hot chocolate.

Chocolates from least to most toxic

Chocolate type Amount of theobromine
Milk chocolate 45-60 mg/oz
Semisweet or dark chocolate 130-185 mg/oz
Unsweetened baking chocolate 400-450 mg/oz
Cocoa powder (which is the most toxic) 800 mg/oz

⚠️ If you suspect that your dog ingested something toxic, notify the Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435

What are the signs of chocolate toxicity? 

Clinical signs typically begin one to four hours after their dog ingested one of the types of chocolate mentioned above. The high-fat content of chocolate products may also trigger pancreatitis in some animals. Signs typically fall into three categories, including gastrointestinal signs, neurological signs, and cardiac signs.

The diagnosis will also depend on the dog’s medical history and signs. Symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Hyperthermia
  • Tachycardia
  • Excessive urination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures or collapse and death

Behavior your dog displays when nauseous 

It’s essential to know when your dog is anxious as this may indicate they’re uncomfortable and not feeling well. Signs of chocolate poisoning may also be seen in specific behaviors:

  • Dogs may pant or lick their lips
  • A short yawn is often a sign of anxiety
  • You’ll see a tense face and body
  • Pet owners may notice the dog’s tongue is wide and scooped
  • Pacing is seen in a dog with an upset stomach

Chocolate toxicity calculator may inform treatment

Since toxicity will depend on the amount and the type of chocolate consumed, a helpful tool known as a ‘chocolate toxicity calculator’ is available for pet owners.  Vets and vet technicians use this tool and information to determine if a pet needs to be made to vomit or just monitored. Again, it depends on the type of chocolate, the amount consumed, and the dog’s weight.

All of this information is essential when you reach out to the vet. If your dog isn’t having active seizures, is anxious, and panting excessively, you can use this tool while calling your vet or emergency clinic. This context is excellent to have on hand if your dog is stable.

Chocolate toxicity in dogs

Dog’s weight Toxic amount of milk chocolate Toxic amount of dark chocolate
5 pounds 4 ounces .5 ounce
10 pounds 8 ounces 1.0 ounce
20 pounds 1 pound 2.5 ounces
30 pounds 2 pounds 3.25 ounces
40 pounds 2.5 pounds 4.5 ounces
50 pounds 3 pounds 5.5 ounces
60 pounds 4 pounds 7 ounces
70 pounds 5 pounds 8.5 ounces
80 pounds 6 pounds 10 ounces
100 pounds 8 pounds 13 ounces
120 pounds 10 pounds 1 pound

🚨 1 ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs.

What to do if your dog ingests chocolate

Call your local veterinarian immediately or call ASPCA’s Pet Poison Control.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), time is critical for successfully treating accidental poisoning. The AVMA recommends calling your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

You’ll be asked to provide your pet’s breed, age, weight, and any symptoms. It’s important to keep the chocolate product wrapper or container to assist in identification so the appropriate treatment recommendations can be made. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet immediately, even if the signs are subtle, as it’s better to be proactive.

What happens if your dog is hospitalized?

Your dog will be hospitalized for treatment and observation. Typically, chocolate and methylxanthine toxicity treatment include emesis (vomiting), intravenous fluids, and anticonvulsants to control muscle tremors and seizures.

Vets may also use activated charcoal to prevent absorption of theobromine into the body. Abnormal heart rhythms may develop, and antiarrhythmic medication may be administered as well to address this serious health issue. Treatment for chocolate consumption may last up to 72 hours.

Training tips for pet owners

How can pet owners prevent this from happening? According to trainer Karen Reese, dogs like to counter surf. Pet owners must train their dogs to learn there’s nothing good for them on counters or in the kitchen.

Make sure that you do not leave anything on the counter that your dog might want to grab. This includes food, crumbs, dishes, used paper towels, etc. Living with a dog that counter surfs will teach you to have a very clean kitchen!

Karen Reese, CPDT, KA, ACDBC Certified Fear Free Dog Trainer

Reese also suggests a few key tips:

Keep them away Teach them to stay out of the kitchen so they aren’t as tempted.

Teach them “out” When your dog enters the kitchen, coax them out of the kitchen and say “out” once they have left. It can also be helpful to reward your dog the first few times.

Practice the “off” command When the dog puts their feet on the counter, ask them to get down from the counter by gesturing to get down.

Don’t forget to reward — Treats need to be given after each step. Rinse and repeat!

Chocolate is a common poisoning in dogs 

Many human foods are poisonous to dogs, including onions, grapes, raisins, garlic, and xylitol. Some of the symptoms from eating these items are similar to the symptoms of chocolate poisoning. Continuously monitor your dog’s behavior to determine if anything seems off. In some cases, even a small amount of chocolate can cause your dog to become extremely sick.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if I don’t know how much chocolate my dog has eaten?

Start by looking for a wrapper or container leftover. Assume the entire amount has been consumed if you can’t determine how much your dog ate and monitor for symptoms. Contact your vet for advice if you suspect a large amount is missing and you don’t see any signs.

Are all dogs at risk from chocolate poisoning?

Yes! Every breed and size of dog is at risk from chocolate poisoning. Smaller breeds and dogs are at an even higher risk pending the amount and type of chocolate they ate.

Can dogs eat white chocolate?

White chocolate is still chocolate. White chocolate contains 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate and may not be a serious threat. However, even if the amount ingested is not a toxicity concern, dogs can still become ill from the fat and sugar in chocolate.

Are there home remedies for dogs who ate chocolate?

Nope! Pet owners need to talk to their vet for a recommendation on how to best treat a dog that ingested any type of chocolate. Stay off the internet!

How to induce vomiting for a dog who ate chocolate?

Pet owners should never induce vomiting without talking to a vet about a dog’s symptoms and the type of chocolate ingested.

Sources

Norkus, C. (2012) Vet Tech's Manual for Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care. Wiley-Blackwell.