Aly Walansky•December 11, 2020•4 min read
We’re always so careful with our pups, but we can’t keep an eye on them all of the time. We turn around for a moment and they’ll steal a donut or a cookie, maybe a piece of candy or a whole chocolate bar. It’s pretty well-known that chocolate is a toxic food for dogs, but just how dangerous is it? Will they be in trouble if they have even a little? Or is it only when they are munching on a whole cake?
The answer varies - both with the size and breed of the dog, and how much (and what type!) of chocolate they have ingested. Let’s take a look at why chocolate is bad for dogs, how much chocolate is toxic for dogs (and what kind), and how to treat your dog when they’ve ingested too much chocolate.
If you’re nervous about whether your dog has ingested toxic amounts of chocolate, talk to a vet now. Don’t wait.
Most pet owners keep a mental list of all those foods their pets need to stay away from, but they may not know exactly what it is about those foods that are so dangerous for their pups.
“The toxic components in chocolate are stimulants called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today. Dogs are much more sensitive to methylxanthines than people are.
In general, the darker a chocolate, the higher its methylxanthine content. “Milk chocolate typically contains around 60-70 mg of methylxanthines per ounce. Dark chocolate is around 155 mg per ounce, while baker’s chocolate can be as high as 500 mg per ounce,” said Coates.
But it’s more than the ingredients, it’s also that chocolate has a good amount of fat - and that’s bad for dogs as well. “Many products containing chocolate are high in fat and can lead to pancreatitis in dogs after ingestion regardless of their methylxanthine content,” says Coates.
Theobromine is one of the toxic components of chocolate. “Mild toxicity is seen at 9mg of theobromine per pound of dog, and severe toxicity is seen at 18mg theobromine per pound of dog,” says Dr. Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT from “I and love and you”.
Another dangerous component in chocolate is caffeine and is found at approximately 10% the amount of theobromine. “In essence, it depends on the type and amount of chocolate ingested compared to the weight of the dog,” said Dr. Krause. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine and theobromine are present. For example, baker’s chocolate is more dangerous compared with milk chocolate.
The amount of chocolate your pet ingests, as well as your pet’s size, will determine the seriousness of the risk. For example: “A Golden Retriever who eats a single M&M is going to be just fine,” says Jen Jones, the founder of Your Dog Advisor, a leading blog for dog owners. However, says Jones, a 6-pound Yorkie who ingests half a Hershey bar is in serious trouble.
As with humans, the symptoms of a food reaction will vary between pets. “Symptoms of chocolate toxicity, include vomiting, diarrhea, excitability, tremors, a high heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, and seizures,” says Coates. Chocolate toxicity can be fatal without appropriate veterinary care.
To determine whether a dog got into a dangerous amount of chocolate, you need to know how much was eaten, what kind of chocolate was eaten, and the dog’s weight. “Symptoms usually start to develop when dogs eat around 9 mg methylxanthines per pound body weight. Severe illness is possible at around 19 mg per pound body weight,” clarifies Coates.
Talk to a veterinarian if your dog could have eaten a potentially toxic amount of chocolate so you know how to proceed immediately. “Treatment can involve making the dog vomit, cleaning out the stomach through a procedure called gastric lavage, administering activated charcoal, and providing supportive and symptomatic care,” explains Coates.
Activated charcoal may also be recommended to help absorb whatever is left in the dog’s system. “The usual dose for activated charcoal is 1 to 4 grams per kilogram of weight,” says Connie Monico, the veterinary specialist at the thedogadventure.com. The powder may come in capsules or loose in a container. “It can typically be purchased at a health food store or even online,” says Monico.
If the chocolate has recently been ingested and was a toxic dose, it is possible to use hydrogen peroxide to cause your pup to vomit, says Dr. Krause.
If the ingestion was hours ago and severe symptoms are present, hospitalization and medical therapy is warranted. It’s important to call your veterinarian immediately if any symptoms occur.