Chocolate Toxicity in Pets

If you’ve noticed I’ve been writing more veterinary posts lately, you have noticed correctly!  Lately, I’ve had a hard time coming up with topics for posts, so I decided since I really enjoy writing about animal health, I would write some veterinary or pet health related articles from A to Z. Hence, Anal Sac Disease in Dogs, Bee and Wasp Stings in Pets, and Chocolate Toxicity in Pets, etc.  This will be a fun challenge for me (and I always enjoy a good writing challenge) and I hope one that will be enjoyable and educational for my readers!

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As a veterinarian, I often get asked, “Is chocolate really poisonous to dogs?”  The answer to that question is YES!  In large doses, chocolate can be highly toxic and even lethal.

Many species of animals are susceptible to chocolate poisoning, but it is most common in dogs.  Dogs have more of a tendency to eat “things” than cats do, and they seem to like it just as much as we humans do!  Their strong sense of smell allows them to sniff out our best chocolate hiding places!  Puppies and young dogs may be more likely to ingest large amounts of chocolate.  Small dogs are more at risk due to the amount of chocolate ingested relative to body size.  Sickness and yes, even death, can result from an animal eating chocolate.  Death can also occur in animals who ingest mulch containing cocoa bean hulls.

chocolate candy bar

The toxic substances in chocolate are Methylxanthine alkaloids (primarily theobromine and caffeine).  These substances stimulate the CNS (central nervous system) and cause tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat).

According to The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, the following products are listed in order from highest to lowest of the amount of toxic substances they contain:

  • dry cocoa powder
  • unsweetened baker’s chocolate
  • cocoa bean hulls
  • semisweet chocolate and sweet dark chocolate
  • milk chocolate
  • white chocolate

One-quarter ounce of baking chocolate or two ounces of milk chocolate per kilogram of body weight is a potential lethal dosage in dogs.

.Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity

G.I. signs such as vomiting and diarrhea are usually the first signs noticed and these occur about 2-4 hours after ingestion of the chocolate.  Dogs will often become restless and hyperactive.  The methylxanthines act as diuretics and may cause the animal to pass excessive amounts of urine.  Advanced signs include stiffness, excitement, tremors, seizures, and hyperreflexia.  

Physical exam findings include: a high body temperature, hypotension (or low blood pressure), hyperreflexia, muscle rigidity, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, heart failure, weakness, coma, and death.  Death usually occurs 12-36 hours after ingestion.

Treatment

There is no antidote for chocolate toxicity.

If your dog has eaten chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately.  The severity of the toxicity will depend on the type and amount of chocolate ingested.  The veterinarian will want to know these three things: 1) how much chocolate was ingested 2) the type of chocolate (baker’s chocolate versus milk chocolate, versus dark chocolate, etc.), and 3) how long since the chocolate was ingested.

If the chocolate was recently ingested and the animal isn’t showing signs yet, the animal can be induced to vomit (I use hydrogen peroxide but Syrup of ipecac is also effective). You do NOT want to induce vomiting if the animal is already having seizures.  The animal can also be given activated charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins.  Fluids are given to help with dehydration and to increase urine output to aid in excreting the theobromine and caffeine in the urine.  Medications are given to control seizures and to control the irregular heartbeat often brought on by chocolate poisoning.  The chocolate can cause the dog to have gastroenteritis and a bland diet should be fed for several days.  The dog should be kept in a cool and quiet place and kept calm.  The expected course is 12-36 hours depending on the amount of chocolate ingested, the size of the animal, and the effectiveness of treatment.  In severe cases, signs may last for up to 72 hours.

I have been asked if I’ve ever seen chocolate toxicity in dogs?  Yes I have.  I’ve seen some pretty sick animals who have eaten chocolate.  To prevent chocolate toxicity in animals, keep chocolate out of the reach of pets!!

Gail ♥ 

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
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