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Chocolate is a delicious treat for humans, but it isn't a suitable treat for dogs. Chocolate toxicity is a common problem seen in dogs, and it often stems from accidental ingestion. While chocolate is toxic to dogs, the level of toxicity depends on the type of chocolate, how much they ate and how big the dog is. Let's take a closer look at what happens if a dog eats chocolate and what you should do.
Understanding Dogs and Chocolate: Is It Harmful?
Chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine and to a lesser extent, caffeine. Humans metabolize theobromine easily, but dogs don't. Dogs process theobromine and caffeine slowly, which allows these toxic compounds to build up in their systems and cause clinical signs associated with chocolate toxicity.
But when it comes to toxicity, not all chocolate is the same. What happens if a dog eats chocolate is different based on the type of chocolate they consumed. Baker's chocolate and cocoa, for example, are considered to be the most toxic, then dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.
Chocolate toxicity is so common in dogs that the Merck Veterinary Manual offers a chocolate toxicity meter that you can use to determine if your dog has consumed a toxic amount of chocolate.
What Happens if a Dog Eats Chocolate?
It depends on your dog's size and how much chocolate they've consumed.
If you have a medium or large dog who consumes only a small amount of chocolate, then you may only notice signs associated with an upset stomach, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
But if your dog consumes a large amount of chocolate or if you have a small dog who consumes chocolate, then they may develop the following signs of chocolate toxicity:
- Irregular heart rate
- Heart arrhythmia
- Internal bleeding
These signs are usually proceeded by an onset of extreme excitement.
What Should I Do if My Dog Eats Chocolate?
If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate or you see them eating chocolate, don't wait to see if they develop any signs of toxicity. Call your veterinarian immediately. The sooner a dog is treated, the higher likelihood they'll recover without incident.
If your vet isn't available, call the local emergency veterinary clinic or the pet poison hotline. These professionals will walk you through what to do.
It's helpful to keep or take a picture of the packaging to give to the vet, and let them know when you think your dog was eating chocolate. Treatment often differs depending on how long the chocolate has been in the dog's body.
What Is the Treatment for Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs?
The treatment for chocolate toxicity in dogs is decontamination and support.
First, the chocolate needs to be removed from your dog's system. If the chocolate has been consumed within the last hour, your vet may be able to induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of their system and avoid a hospital stay. This is another reason not to wait on calling your veterinarian after your dog has eaten chocolate. Keep in mind that you should never try to induce your dog to vomit at home without a vet's supervision. If it's been more than a few hours or you don't know when the chocolate was consumed, your vet may need to try and help clear the toxic byproducts of the chocolate in your dog's system by administering activated charcoal or giving them intravenous fluids through a catheter. If your dog isn't showing signs of chocolate toxicity, this may be all the treatment they need.
What happens if a dog eats chocolate and gets sick? Treatment depends on the dog's clinical signs. They'll likely need to be hospitalized to receive support in the form of intravenous fluid therapy, anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medications, anti-seizure medications, etc. Severe chocolate toxicity can be fatal, so any dog experiencing the effects of chocolate poisoning will need to be continually monitored by veterinary personnel. Hospitalization from chocolate toxicity can be as short as one day or as long as several days, and the cost of treatment for chocolate toxicity can range from a hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the severity of the poisoning.
Keep all chocolate out of reach of dogs. The main time vets see an uptick in chocolate toxicity cases is around the holidays, when there are hidden chocolate treats around the house or under the holiday tree. Chocolate, even in small amounts, is never a good treat for a dog. While dogs and chocolate don't mix, rest assured that there are many delicious and safe treat options that are sure to delight even the pickiest dog.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well-known international speaker and writer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. In addition, she is a co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity'. Dr. Wooten lives in the mountains of Colorado.