Why Is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs? [Guide and Tips on What to Do]

Dogs love sweets. But of all the sweet foods you can think of, you do not offer chocolate to a dog. 

My friend, Kels, learned this the hard way. She helplessly watched Bella, her Rottweiler, writhing in pains hours after feeding her bread with chocolate spread. Fortunately, Bella threw up twice, and eventually survived the ordeal. But the incident drove me to research the topic and develop this guide.

In this article, I am going to explain in detail how chocolate affects dogs and also answer some important questions on the topic. I will share with us valuable tips on how to prevent dog chocolate poisoning too. 

Here’s what to expect:

Let’s dig in, shall we?

 

1. What Makes Chocolate Poisoning?

Chocolate contains more than 300 known chemicals. These include Caffeine, Phenylethylamine, Serotonin, Anandamide, and Histamine. Each of these chemicals has specific traits that contribute to give chocolate its renowned properties. 

Phenylamine, for instance, is considered a love drug because it gives rise to pleasurable feelings. Histamine is responsible for the positive mood change and cravings associated with chocolate.

But the most significant chemical in chocolate is Theobromine. Chocolate or theobromine poisoning is the singular reason you should not feed chocolate to dogs.

Theobromine and Caffeine belong to a family of chemicals known as methylxanthines. The molecules attach themselves to the receptors on body cell surfaces. When this happens, the natural compounds meant to bind to the receptors are unable to do so until the chemicals are digested.

Humans, unlike dogs, process theobromine faster and in relatively larger quantities. A 20-pound German Shepherd may need 15 hours to digest 0.4 ounces of dark chocolate. Within this time interval, the dog may develop mild symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea.

Caffeine sets the dog’s heart racing and also makes it restless. Older dogs are prone to these caffeine hits and are unable to handle the “high” of the drug.

In severe cases of chocolate poisoning, the symptoms will include seizures and heart attacks. This may eventually lead to the death of the dog.

 

1.1 Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning

Chocolate might not have much effect on your dog if it consumed just a tiny bit. But once your dog starts showing any of these signs, you may have to call your vet.

Vomiting

When your dog vomits after a few hours of eating chocolate, then it is very likely due to poisoning. Vomiting is the body’s natural way of expelling foreign content. The good news is, vomiting will help your dog feel better if the quantity of chocolate consumed is low.

Diarrhea

In most cases, vomiting is accompanied by diarrhea. This is also the body’s way of expelling the chocolate. Make sure your dog has access to water during this period to avoid dehydration. Yogurt or rice water can help the dog get through this phase. Contact your vet if the symptom persists.

Restlessness

Dogs get an unhealthy “high” from chocolate, especially with increased quantities. If your chihuahua suddenly keeps running around after taking chocolate, you should keep your vet close. This restlessness is followed by seizures in some cases and can lead to sudden death.

Increased Heart Rate

For severe chocolate poisoning cases, the dog may eventually die of a heart attack. Before that happens, the dog’s heart rate will increase abnormally. Call your vet once you notice the increase in heart rate.

Seizures and Muscle Tremors

In extreme cases of chocolate poisoning, the elevated heart rate is followed by body tremors and seizures. Older dogs or dogs with heart conditions are less likely to survive this stage of poisoning. Induce vomiting and call your vet as soon as you notice the signs.

Others

Your dog may also present other symptoms such as increased urination, internal bleeding, fever, and even sudden collapse. 

 

1.2 Foods High in Theobromine

It is not enough to avoid chocolate bars. The main culprit in chocolate is theobromine. To completely avoid theobromine poisoning, you have to identify all foods with theobromine and keep your dog away from them. 

Here are some of the popular foods that contain theobromine:

Cocoa-based Foods

Cocoa is the major ingredient in chocolate that contains poisonous substances. Hence, all cocoa-based foods contain theobromine and may be potentially harmful to your dog. These foods include chocolate syrup, puddings, coffee mix, a dairy mix containing chocolate, and cereals containing cocoa amongst others.

Instant Tea Drinks

Tea is a cocoa-based food. This means it also contains theobromine and caffeine – albeit in smaller quantities. Ignore the cute eyes and think twice before you offer your breakfast to your dog.

Other Foods

Other foods containing theobromine include:

Yerba Mate

According to David Wolfe in his book “Naked Chocolate: The Astonishing Truth About the World’s Greatest Food,” yerba mate contains theobromine. The herb is used to make a tea-like beverage known as mate and tereré in Guarani. Yerba mate is found in various energy drinks. It is also common in most health stores due to its weight loss properties.

Kola Nut

Wolfe also indicated that kola nut contained small levels (1 – 2%) of theobromine. It is used to give flavor to sodas and some energy drinks and has some health benefits. But while you may love to chew kola nut or take products based on it, avoid giving it to your dog.

Guarana

Guarana is a popular Brazilian herb that is used in most energy drinks. It contains 1% theobromine and twice as much caffeine as contained in cocoa. It is a great instant energy boost, but can potentially harm your dog.

 

2. How Much Chocolate Kill a Dog?

Death through chocolate poisoning is not a common occurrence. With good care and quick veterinary intervention, your dog is most likely to survive chocolate poisoning. But that also depends on some factors. These factors include the size of the dog, the type of chocolate, and the amount of chocolate consumed.

 

2.1 Type of Chocolate Matters

White Chocolate

White chocolate is the least harmful of the four types of chocolate. It contains 0.25mg of poisonous substance per ounce. Your dog would have to consume really large doses of white chocolate before falling sick from chocolate poisoning. This means around 95 pounds for a 20-pound dog! 

Milk Chocolate

Milk Chocolate such as M&M’s, Hershey’s, Kit Kat, contain approximately 58mg of poisonous substance per ounce. This makes it the second least harmful type of chocolate. Your 10-pound Havanese will have to eat more than two bars of Hershey’s (approx. 3.5oz) to need a call to your vet.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is just as popular and available as milk chocolate in many shops. It contains 130mg of poisonous substance per ounce. Three ounces of dark chocolate is potentially lethal for a 20-pound dog, and 1.5 ounces for a 10-pound dog.

Baker’s Chocolate

Baker’s chocolate or unsweetened chocolate is preferably used as a baking ingredient. It contains approximately 393mg per ounce of chocolate and quite lethal. If your 10-pound dog consumes as much as 0.5 ounces, you should contact your vet immediately.

Cocoa Powder

Raw Cocoa is not chocolate, but it is the mother of all types of chocolate. It can contain as much as 10% of theobromine. If you have a pet dog at home, you should not keep cocoa powder anywhere close. You should also call your vet once you notice your dog ingested the cocoa powder.

 

2.2 Size of Dog Matters

Most dogs are capable of handling certain amounts of chocolate. But this depends on the type of chocolate and the weight of the dog. 

Small dogs such as Chihuahuas that weigh below 10 pounds may be unable to handle five ounces of milk chocolate. Bigger dogs like the English Mastiff or the Great Dane could easily shake off the same quantity of chocolate. A 5-pound Yorkshire Terrier will get really sick after ingesting as little as 0.75 ounces of dark chocolate. 

The general rule, according to Dr. Lichtenberg, is to remember that 20mg of theobromine per pound of dog is lethal. Let’s say your dog, weighing 20 pounds, consumes 3 ounces of dark chocolate. 130mg multiplied by 3oz and divided by 20 pounds is 19.5. You should call your vet right away!

 

2.3 Death Risk Factors

Death is very likely only if the dog has other medical conditions. Dogs with lung or breathing problems may choke from vomiting and die. A dog with a heart condition, or an old dog, may not survive a heart attack as a result of chocolate ingestion too. 

Here are risk factors that can lead to death from chocolate poisoning:

Season

The chances of your dog getting poisoned during Christmas or Easter season are higher than ordinary periods. Well, this is a no brainer, but there are usually more chocolate bars lying around during festive periods. You are also very likely to be busy during the period and may not notice the symptoms on time.

Age

Older dogs are very likely to die from chocolate poisoning. With weak body organs, their break down chocolate more slowly, and are rarely able to handle the symptoms.

But research shows that older dogs are less likely to get exposed to chocolate than younger dogs. Dogs under four years are known to be more exploring and ready to eat anything. This means younger dogs need to be watched more, and older dogs need more care.

Time of Detection

Dogs are very likely to survive chocolate poisoning if treatment is commenced almost immediately. While symptoms of poisoning may last for as long as 72 hours, delay in treatment is dangerous. You need to understand your dog’s body language and know when it is sick.

 

2.4 Complications of Chocolate Poisoning

While chocolate poisoning is dangerous but treatable, it can lead to other medical conditions. If your dog has an underlying medical condition, the symptoms may worsen the case. Here are possible complications that may arise from chocolate poisoning.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Your dog may inhale a dangerous of foreign matter into its lungs after vomiting. This leads to inflammation of the lungs or aspiration pneumonia. If your dog develops fever, cough, or has a nasal discharge after vomiting, you should contact a vet immediately.

Dehydration

Dehydration in dogs is commonly noticed in dogs with diarrhea issues. Once diarrhea sets in as a symptom of chocolate poisoning, you should try to prevent dehydration. This means making sure the dog has access to water always, and possibly finding alternatives to boost body electrolytes.

Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders

If your dog had epileptic episodes as a symptom of chocolate poisoning, it might develop a seizure disorder. This is very likely to happen if the dog is not given proper treatment. Your vet is better placed to properly treat the seizures and prevent your dog from developing an epileptic disorder.

Permanent Heart or Kidney Damage

In severe chocolate poisoning cases, your dog may develop a permanent heart or kidney damage. The chances of this happening increases for every minute you delay in calling your vet. The theobromine in the chocolate is a big threat to the dog’s kidneys and liver. The chemical can get reabsorbed into the body through the bladder wall too.

Caffeine is bad for the heart of the average dog and can wreak serious havoc to it. Older dogs are less likely to survive caffeine-induced heart conditions.

Death

Ultimately, death is the chief complication that may arise from chocolate poisoning. But with prompt intervention and for mild cases, this will be averted.

 

3. What do you do when your dog eats Chocolate?

Your best bet is to get in touch with a vet immediately your dog starts showing symptoms of poisoning. 

 

4. How to Prevent Dog Chocolate Poisoning?

The best way to prevent your dog from falling sick due to chocolate poisoning is to make sure it does not come in contact with harmful amounts of chocolate. Here are ways to ensure that:

  • Do not offer chocolate or other cocoa-based product as food or reward. You do not want it overdosing on chocolate or getting used to it. Depending on the size of the dog, you can give it tiny bits of chocolate. But remember to make sure the tiny quantity contains poisonous substances that are far less than 20mg per pound of dog weight.
  • Keep all bars of chocolate or cocoa-based foods away from your dog’s reach. This is very important especially if your dog is less than four years old. It is best to not keep chocolate within the house. If you must, keep them locked up or out of reach of your kids and the dog.
  • Take extreme care and measures during festive periods. Dogs are four times more likely to consume chocolate accidentally during festive periods. Watch out for chocolate candies and sweets around the house during Halloween. Make sure the dog does not come in contact with chocolate puddings during Christmas and Easter too.
  • Train the dog to not eat anything without letting you know first. It is almost impossible to keep an eye on your dog all day. Most chocolate poisoning cases are also accidental. If you can train your dog to not eat anything off the floor or without bringing it to you first, you can limit accidental cases.
  • Induce vomiting immediately after ingestion. Once you notice your dog has ingested an unhealthy amount of chocolate, avoid inducing vomiting with corrosive chemicals, salt or hydrocarbons. Do not stick your finger into its throat too. Contact your vet as soon as you can.

 

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