By: Sondra Wolfer
It’s a scene no dog owner wants to see: you enter a room to find your dog surrounded by chocolate wrappers with no chocolate in sight except the telltale remnants on her muzzle. You know the melty stuff you love is unhealthy for your best friend, but how much chocolate is toxic to dogs? Do you need to rush straight to the vet? If you’re faced with this scenario, don’t panic. You’ve got a little investigating to do.
What to Do if Your Dog Ate Chocolate
The following factors indicate whether your dog is at risk of chocolate poisoning:
- How much chocolate your dog ate. Greater amounts of chocolate increase the risk of toxicity. Don’t rely purely on empty wrappers as evidence for how much she ingested. Dogs are not delicate eaters and it’s likely she ate some wrappers in the process.
- The type of chocolate your dog ate. Dark chocolate is more toxic to dogs than milk chocolate and white chocolate. Sugar-free chocolates and sweets that contain xylitol are also toxic.
- Your dog’s size and health. Small dogs and toy breeds are more at risk of ingesting a toxic quantity of chocolate in relation to their weight. Older dogs and dogs with specific medical conditions, such as heart disease, are also at greater risk of chocolate poisoning.
So a Chihuahua who ate a bar of dark chocolate needs to be taken to the vet immediately, while you can take a watch-and-wait approach when a St. Bernard munches a few milk chocolate morsels. More specifically, 1 ounce of dark chocolate is toxic to a small dog weighing 20 pounds, whereas it would take 2.5 ounces to reach toxic levels in a medium dog weighing 50 pounds, and 4 ounces to be toxic to a large, 90-pound dog. Our infographic on Chocolate and Candy Safety for Dogs further breaks down the quantity of chocolate that is toxic for different sized dogs.
Once you’ve determined the amount and type of chocolate your dog has eaten relative to her size, call your veterinarian to find out next steps that are best for your dog.
Always call your vet or seek emergency medical treatment if you are not sure how much chocolate your dog ingested.
In many cases, your veterinarian will simply ask you to watch your dog for signs of chocolate poisoning and bring her in only when and if symptoms appear.
What are the Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs?
- Elevated body temperature
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle rigidity
- Heart Failure
If your dog ate a significant quantity of chocolate or you are unsure of the amount, you should visit your vet’s office or veterinary hospital so your dog can be evaluated and treated if needed. Symptoms usually appear between 6 and 12 hours after eating chocolate.
Treatment for chocolate poisoning in your dog may include:
- Inducing vomiting if the chocolate was ingested recently
- Doses of activated charcoal to help move toxins out of your dog’s body while preventing their reabsorption in her bloodstream
- IV fluids to promote the release of toxins
- Medicines to manage symptoms
- Overnight observation for dogs experiencing seizures or heart issues
Why is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs?
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine molecules. Both humans and dogs respond to these compounds with stimulation of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. But theobromine and caffeine break down more slowly in dogs than in humans, which makes the symptoms last longer and lead to possible complications.
Additionally, many sugar-free treats contain the sweetener xylitol which is dangerous for dogs. The naturally-derived sugar substitute stimulates a rush of insulin in canines, which causes a drop in blood sugar that can be fatal.
How to Prevent Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
To protect your dog from the chocolate stash, make sure it’s always out of paw’s reach. When storing chocolate, remember your dog has a powerful sense of smell, tenacity, and dexterous paws. If she can possibly get to it, she will. Here’s how to keep your dog safe from chocolate:
- Don’t store chocolate in low cabinets, on the counter, in the middle of the table, or pushed to the back of the counter. Even if it seems out of reach, it probably isn’t for your smart pup.
- Dedicate a shelf high in a cabinet above the countertop to all treats containing chocolate or xylitol, as well as ingredients such as cocoa, baking chocolate, and chocolate chips.
- Consider crate training your dog so she can’t reach any foods that are unhealthy while you are out.
- Alternatively, consider using a dog gate to keep your dog contained in a room that contains no dangerous foods or items.
- Train your dog to “leave it” so she will put down any dangerous treats she finds when you are with her.
- Be extra vigilant around Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The majority of chocolate poisoning incidents occur around these holidays.
It takes a bit of extra planning and attentiveness to keep your dog away from chocolate. But with a few safeguards in place, you can indulge your sweet tooth without worry. And if she casts guilt-inducing puppy dog eyes your way, maybe toss her a few healthy dog treats so you can indulge together.