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Why Chocolate is Bad for Dogs

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Is chocolate poisonous to dogs?

While the occasional chocolate chip within one cookie may not be an issue, we worry about certain types of chocolate – the less sweet and the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to your pet. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. Other sources include chewable, flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. The chemical toxicity is due to a methylxanthine (like theobromine), and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, inflammation of the pancreas (i.e., pancreatitis), an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and rarely, even death. With Halloween right around the corner, make sure your kids know to hide the stash from your dogs. (Dogs make up 95% of all our chocolate calls, as cats are usually too discriminating to eat chocolate!) In smaller dogs, even the wrappers from candy can result in a secondary obstruction in the stomach or intestines.

What’s in it

When it comes to chocolate, it’s imperative to remember this fact: Dark = dangerous! The darker the chocolate, the larger the amount of theobromine, a cousin chemical to caffeine, that it contains. Thus, baker’s chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, cocoa powder and gourmet dark chocolates are more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has very little theobromine and will not cause chocolate poisoning in pets.

Threat to pets

It’s the dose that makes the poison! Pets that ingest a few M&Ms or 1-2 bites of a chocolate chip cookie are unlikely to develop chocolate poisoning.

  • For milk chocolate, any ingestion of more than 0.5 ounces per pound of body weight may put dogs at risk for chocolate poisoning.
  • Ingestions of more than 0.13 ounces per pound of dark or semi-sweet chocolate may cause poisoning.
  • Almost all ingestions of baker’s chocolate can result in poisoning and are considered emergencies.
  • Very young, geriatric and animals with underlying disease must be treated more conservatively as they are more at risk for poisoning than healthy adult animals.
  • Due to the large amount of fat in chocolate, some pets may develop pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) after eating chocolate or baked goods containing chocolate (see fatty foods).

Signs of chocolate poisoning

Ingestions of small amounts of chocolate may cause mild vomiting and diarrhea. Larger ingestions can cause severe agitation, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures and collapse.

Treatment

Induce vomiting and give multiple doses activated charcoal to decontaminate. Aggressive IV fluids to help with excretion, sedatives to calm the pet, specific heart medications to reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, anti-convulsants for seizures, antacids (such as Pepcid) for stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Theobromine may be reabsorbed across the bladder wall so a urinary catheter or frequent walks are needed to keep the bladder empty.

Prognosis

Excellent with small ingestions (such as mild stomach upset).
Excellent in pets with mild signs of poisoning (such as mild stomach upset or slight restlessness). Poor in those with severe signs of poisoning such as collapse and seizures.

ProductTheobromineCaffeine
White chocolate0.25 mg/oz0.85 mg/oz
Milk chocolate44-60 mg/oz6 mg/oz
Dark semisweet135 mg/oz20 mg/oz
Unsweetened baker’s chocolate390-450 mg/oz47 mg/oz
Dry cocoa powder400-737 mg/oz70 mg/oz
Cocoa beans300-1500 mg/oz
Cocoa bean mulch56-900 mg/oz

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