It’s well-known that chocolates release feel-good hormones in people. So much so that there are those who argue that chocolate could be addictive. Just ask any self-confessed chocoholic. And, while chocolate, especially the dark kind, has proven health benefits for us, the exact opposite is true for dogs. Find out what makes chocolate toxic for dogs.

Why exactly is chocolate toxic for dogs?chocolate toxic for dogs

Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant that is highly poisonous for dogs and which can be lethal even in small doses. According to vet Vicki Larkham-Jones, the higher the cocoa content, the more toxic the chocolate. The decadent dark chocolate that you treat yourself with is a death sentence for your pooch.

Also, the smaller the dog, the smaller the amount of chocolate needed for the dose to be fatal. This means that if you love your toy breeds and lapdogs, you need to take extra care around chocolate.

How much is too much

Dr Dawn Ruben takes a closer look at the different types of chocolate and their degree of toxicity to dogs.

White chocolate is the least toxic because it doesn’t contain much as much theobromine and caffeine as good quality dark chocolate. That doesn’t mean white chocolate is safe, however. Your dog needs to eat a log of white chocolate for it to be lethal. However, the high fat content can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Milk chocolate is more toxic than white chocolate. Only 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight is required to induce mild poisoning. Two ounces per pound of body weight causes severe toxic reactions.

Dark chocolate with 50% cocoa solids needs only 0.33 ounces per pound of body weight to induce mild signs of toxicity.  One ounce per pound of body weight has the potential to be lethal.

Dark, unsweetened chocolate or baking chocolate contains 70 – 100% cocoa solids and should definitely be kept far away from dogs. Only 0.1 ounce per pound of body weight can induce mild signs of poisoning while 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight is considered severe. Basically, two squares of baking chocolate can kill a 20-pound dog.

Signs of chocolate poisoning

Sick dog

Depending on the size of your dog and how much chocolate was eaten signs of toxicity can appear in 4 – 24 hours. If your dog shows any of the following signs, she might have sneaked some chocolate and you need to get to a vet:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore tummy
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fever
  • Seizures and/or coma may occur in severe cases

If your dog has only eaten a small amount of white or milk chocolate, monitor the signs and if they are still present after 8 hours, call your vet. However, if you have a puppy or toy dog breed then cut that time down to 4 hours.

Go to the vet immediately if your dog eats a significant amount of milk chocolate or a small amount of dark chocolate. The optimum treatment window is 4 – 6 hours. If your dog is treated for chocolate poisoning during this time, the prognosis is good. Obviously, the longer it’s left untreated, the lower the chances of recovery.

VetInfo suggests that you may want to induce vomiting if your dog has ingested severely toxic amounts of chocolate. You can induce vomiting by administering ipecac syrup or giving a teaspoon of salt. However, not all veterinarians recommend inducing vomiting, so it’s best to speak to your vet before you take any action.

‘Tis the season for accidental poisoning

There is an increase in chocolate toxicity during the festive season. The vast majority of cases are accidental because dogs opportunistic sneaks. Basically, there are so many chocolates, sweets, biscuits and chocolatey things like puddings that it’s very easy for dogs to steal a bit here and there. The theft often goes unnoticed and in the case of chocolate theft, it can go unnoticed until it’s too late.

This means it’s very, very important to make sure that all chocolate, Chocolate labsugary goodies and puddings are stored in cupboards that are either high up or which can be locked, especially when you go out. It also means that you shouldn’t put your box of chocolates stocking-fillers under the tree before Christmas morning because a determined terrier, motivated Labrador and sniffy hound can easily tear the wrapping and help themselves.

Just because most of the incidents of chocolate poisoning are accidental, doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been prevented. Pay careful attention to where your dog is during this time of year, as well as what habits she has picked up. Some dogs go most of their lives without counter surfing or helping themselves to food off the table, but all it takes is one successful attempt and the habit is set.

Pay extra special attention while you are cooking or baking and if you can’t pay attention to your dog, either put her outside, in another room or behind a baby gate so she is entirely out of temptation’s way.

Remember, if it’s in reach it’s fair game, so pack everything away.