Updated November 29, 2020
‘Emergency Care’ (details below)
What To Do If A Dog Eats Chocolate
- Chocolate is a nervous system stimulant & causes seizures in dogs
- Death is more likely with dark or cooking chocolate & smaller dogs
- See a vet ASAP to have the chocolate vomited and signs monitored
now dive deeper…
This Easter there will inevitably be a lot of dogs exposed to chocolate. Get ready by understanding the risks and what you can do if your dog gets poisoned.
Why Is Chocolate Poisonous?
Cocoa contains two related neurotoxins: theobromine, and to a lesser extent caffeine. In dogs and cats, theobromine is toxic due to its slow metabolism and the fact that dogs and cats tend to get large doses relative to their body weight.
However, this still isn’t enough to explain animal poisonings. Although unpalatable in its natural state, modern cocoa is disguised in a sugary and fatty treat irresistible to dogs. Let’s look at the quantity it takes to be dangerous.
How Much Chocolate Is Toxic to a Dog?
Risks are higher for chocolate with high cocoa levels and when body weight is lower. For supermarket products, around 90g dark chocolate can kill a 5kg dog, or 200g of milk chocolate. The toxic amount will be lower for high-quality products like Lindt, Haighs or Ghirardelli.
Doses as little as one-fifth of lethal levels will still cause symptoms such as hyperactivity and agitation. I have seen these first hand in my Jack Russell Terrier after even a tiny amount. The fat content of chocolate products also often causes gastrointestinal upsets or pancreatitis.
That’s why I recommend that all dogs exposed to chocolate be made to vomit as soon as possible after ingestion.
How Long Does it Take for Chocolate to Affect a Dog?
The timeline from eating chocolate to symptoms is reported to be anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. This is wrong. The true onset of signs could be as little as 30 minutes after ingestion.
The speed of onset will depend on the form in which the chocolate is eaten, and how much food was in the stomach already. Times will be shortest if a dog has an empty stomach and eats a highly concentrated form such as chocolate milk flavouring.
The Signs of Chocolate Poisoning
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, abnormal heartbeat, excessive urination, restlessness, excitement, unsteadiness, muscle tremors, seizures and coma. These signs are exactly the same as for caffeine poisoning from products containing coffee.
Vomiting is only safely induced by a veterinarian. Even if it’s too late to get the chocolate vomited, poisoning can still be treated at the vet. The only deaths we have seen occurred when dogs gained access to chocolate while their owners were asleep or away.
Is There Dog Safe Chocolate?
Carob is a safe alternative to chocolate as long as the treat it’s in is low-fat. White chocolate is also free of theobromine but is not recommended due to the high fat content. But why are we assuming dogs want the same things we do? My dogs would much rather have a juicy raw bone or watermelon anyway.
Dog Chocolate Calculator
To work out if your dog has eaten a toxic dose, multiply the ‘Fatal to 1kg’ for the food eaten by your dog’s weight. If your dog ate this much or more, get help immediately. Remember that even one-fifth of these doses can cause signs of toxicity and that the higher the quality, the more toxic it usually is.
|Food||Theobromine||Fatal to 1kg dog*|
|Dark chocolate||4.41 mg/g||18g|
|Milk chocolate||1.88 mg/g||42g|
|Cooking chocolate||5.65 mg/g||14g|
|Choc chips||1.50 mg/g||53g|
|Cocoa (no sugar)||20.3 mg/g||4g|
|Biscuits choc chip||1.79 mg/g||45g|
|Chocolate Cake||1.62 mg/g||49g|
|Cake (iced)||3.56 mg/g||22g|
|Coco Pops||0.70 mg/g||114g|
|Chocolate cookies||1.23 mg/g||65g|
|Custard (infant)||0.22 mg/g||363g|
|Flavoured milk||0.23 mg/g||348g|
|Milk powder||2.66 mg/g||30g|
|Muesli bar||1.36 mg/g||59g|
|Pudding mix||2.28 mg/g||35g|
* 100mg/kg has been used, with the addition of caffeine at 20% of the theobromine level.
These amounts are only an estimate. We don’t have information about confectionery like Mars or TimTams and beware foods like tiramisu that also contain significant caffeine levels. Due to the large variation between dogs and symptoms well below lethal doses we recommend that all dogs who may have eaten chocolate see the vet.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.