Help! My Dog Ate Chocolate

‘Emergency Care’ (details below)

What To Do If A Dog Eats Chocolate

  1. Chocolate is a nervous system stimulant & causes seizures in dogs
  2. Death is more likely with dark or cooking chocolate & smaller dogs
  3. 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.

Below I’ve listed the amounts of common chocolate-containing foods such as chocolate cake and biscuits that would be poisonous.

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.

FoodTheobromineFatal to 1kg dog*
Dark chocolate4.41 mg/g18g
Milk chocolate1.88 mg/g42g
Cooking chocolate5.65 mg/g14g
Choc chips1.50 mg/g53g
Cocoa (no sugar)20.3 mg/g4g
Biscuits choc chip1.79 mg/g45g
Brownie1.42 mg/g56g
Chocolate Cake1.62 mg/g49g
Cake (iced)3.56 mg/g22g
Coco Pops0.70 mg/g114g
Chocolate cookies1.23 mg/g65g
Custard (infant)0.22 mg/g363g
Flavoured milk0.23 mg/g348g
Fudge6.55 mg/g12g
Milk powder2.66 mg/g30g
Muesli bar1.36 mg/g59g
Pudding0.62 mg/g129g
Pudding mix2.28 mg/g35g
Syrup/Topping2.12 mg/g38g

* 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.

Related: How much onion is toxic to dogs?Dog breed weights.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook 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.

Andrew

4 Replies to “Help! My Dog Ate Chocolate”

  1. My childhood dog< a medium sized poodle ate all my 4 milk chocolate Easter eggs when I was 14 and we didn't know enough to be worried…..(I am 57 now) and he lived another 11 years. How is this possible, if chocolate is SO toxic?

    1. Simple- because chocolate varies a lot in toxicity. Easter egg chocolate is often low quality, but if they are high-end (I won’t name names!) it’s a different story. You’ll also see a toxicity calculator in the article

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