I’ve been around dogs my entire life and one thing I’ve heard often is that they shouldn’t eat chocolate. “Chocolate will kill a dog” is an oft repeated phrase I remember from my youngest days. But why? Is chocolate dangerous for dogs? If so, how much? Do different types of chocolate pose a different risk? How can chocolate be toxic for dogs when it tastes so damn good?
The short answer is yes, chocolate is dangerous for your dogs and in surprisingly small amounts.
The long answer is a bit more complex.
What makes chocolate dangerous to dogs?
Chocolate, and other cocoa products contain “theobromine”. This is the compound that makes chocolate, the darker the better, a healthy snack for humans but potentially lethal for dogs. The same compounds that cause euphoria in humans can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and worse for dogs. It’s important to understand that darker chocolate contains higher concentrations of theobromine than lighter chocolates. Milk chocolate, for example, has far less theobromine than dark chocolate or cooking chocolate. Still, keep in mind that for smaller dogs, as little as four ounces of milk chocolate can be fatal.
Given this, it’s obviously best to keep any chocolate away from dogs of any size. When cooking for holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas when those dark chocolate cooking squares are used, extra caution must be taken to keep that chocolate out of reach of dogs. If chocolate chips are spilled on the floor when you’re cooking those delicious cookies, don’t let Fido clean up the mess. Get every single chip up.
Theobromine is easily digested and metabolized by humans but the metabolism of dogs where this is concerned is much slower, consequently the toxic effects have more time to build up and can cause vomiting and diarrhea quickly and often result in what has been called a “theobromine high”, where the dog exhibits severe hyperactivity. This is often attributed (incorrectly) to a sugar high. A dog that has eaten any amount of chocolate and the goes into fits of higher than usual activity may be suffering from early symptoms of the theobromine toxicity build up.
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in your dog
A big part of this problem is that often the dog eats the chocolate without you being aware. They find a few chips that fell on the floor or they pull something off a counter. Or perhaps a toddler is sharing. The point is that it is often not possible to know exactly how much the dog ate. After a dog eats chocolate, you are likely to see a number of symptoms. Onset of any of these are a signal that the dog’s life is in danger and immediate action is required. Do not delay, do not wait to see if the dog gets better. Take immediate action, even to the point of an immediate trip to the vet.
- Muscle Tremors
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle rigidity
- Irregular heartbeat
How much and what type of chocolate is too much?
Any type and any amount is too much. I’ve seen people give dogs chocolate chips as a reward when training. Why take the chance? This is playing with fire and there is no reason to do it when perfectly good alternatives exist that pose no risk.
So how much?
It’s been reported that a single one ounce square of dark chocolate can be fatal for a dog of around 40-50 pounds. There will always be folks who claim this isn’t true because they give their dog chocolate all the time. They’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve also seen reports that as little as four ounces of light milk chocolate can be fatal for a small dog. Of course, for small dogs the reaction time is faster so your timeframe to help the little dog out after eating chocolate are more limited.
At a more technical level, 100-150mg of theobromine per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your dog’s body weight is considered toxic. As a quick reference, a 10 pound dog is is about 4.5 kg so using the above levels of theobromine as the danger zone, the following table can help:
|Dog weight in pounds||Amount of theobromine that is toxic|
|10 pounds||1,000-1,500 mg|
|25 pounds||2,500-3,750 mg|
|50 pounds||5,000-7,500 mg|
Here’s a sampling of how much theobromine can be found in common chocolate items you have in your house
|Item||Serving Size||Theobromine content|
|Rich Chocolate Ice Cream||1 cup||178 mg|
|Chocolate pudding||1 cup||75 mg|
|Hershey’s milk chocolate bar||1.5 oz||64 mg|
|Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup||2 cups||32 mg|
|Baking Chocolate||1 cup||1712 mg|
|Dark chocolate candy bar||1 bar||810 mg|
|Dry cocoa chocolate baking powder||1 cup||1769 mg|
When you look at the above table and see that a single Reese’s Peanut Butter cup has about 32 mg of theobromine, you may think that’s below the threshold so it’s ok. And, it might be. But again, why take the chance when there are so many excellent alternatives that are undoubtedly safe? Also, you know how dogs are. They get a taste and they want more. Just don’t go down that road. There’s not a single good reason to take that risk.
What to do when your dog eats chocolate?
A lot of this depends on the size of the dog, the amount of chocolate consumed, and what kind of chocolate.
Try to figure out what type of chocolate it was. If you can find a wrapper, that will be very helpful. Also note how much was eaten if you know. These two bits of information will be very important for your trip to the vet.
Small dogs should be taken to a vet immediately regardless of how much chocolate was consumed. This is the safest approach as for small dogs, relatively small amounts of chocolate can be very dangerous.
For larger dogs, you have a bit of breathing room. If you know for sure that only a small amount was eaten, and you also know what kind of chocolate (remember, darker is worse in this case), then you may be ok just keeping an eye on the pooch and watch for symptoms (listed above). Inducing vomiting is recommended if you catch the dog within 2 hours or so. Beyond 2 hours and inducing vomiting won’t help much. If you catch your dog red handed, or red pawed I guess, then the single best thing you can do is to induce vomiting to get that chocolate out of the dog’s system.
As far as the different types of chocolate, as mentioned previously, the darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromine and therefore, the more dangerous it is for dogs. Dark baking chocolate contains about six times as much as the lighter milk chocolate found in candy bars. The point here is, a single one ounce piece of dark chocolate can introduce six times as much theobromine into your dog’s system so the symptoms will onset much faster and be much more severe.
So is chocolate dangerous for dogs? Undeniably so. Can dogs eat chocolate? Given the gray area (how much, what kind of chocolate, how big is the dog, etc), many owners feel they are safe but again, why take the chance? There are plenty of alternatives that are 100% safe so go that route instead.
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