We adore our dogs and it makes sense that we want to share everything with them. We share our homes, our time, and our energy, but one thing we should be cautious about sharing is our food. You may have asked yourself, “Is chocolate safe for my dog?”
Unfortunately, dogs have different systems than we do and while there are some healthy foods that we can share, many of the foods that we enjoy on a regular basis can be downright deadly for our furbabies. There are several foods that are our canine companions should never eat, including chocolate.
What Makes Chocolate So Toxic to Dogs?
Theobromine and caffeine, the two components responsible for chocolate’s toxic effects on dogs, belong to a group of chemicals called methylxanthines. Methylxanthines act as stimulants by inhibiting the adenosine receptors, both in humans and in our pets.
In humans, these chemicals are purged from our systems within just a few short hours, but our canine companions process both theobromine and caffeine more slowly than we do. These stimulants cause an increase in heart rate for both humans and for dogs, but while it gives us a short boost then passes through our system it can elevate our canine companion’s heart rate for days at a time.
Size Matters (and other considerations)
The effects of theobromine poisoning can be seen at doses equaling 20 mg/kg and can be fatal at 60 mg/kg. That means that a small, nearly insignificant dose for a large dog like a Saint Bernard, weighing in at 140-260 pounds, could easily kill a small dog like a Chihuahua or Yorkshire Terrier that only weighs 3-7 pounds.
To complicate matters more, not everything with chocolate on the label has the same concentration of cocoa beans. Listed below is a rough guideline for the amount of theobromine in different types of chocolate, although product definitions and quality can vary widely between different countries and companies.
- Cocoa powder- 20 mg/g
- Unsweetened Baking chocolate- 13 mg/g
- Dark Chocolate- 11 mg/g
- Milk Chocolate- 2 mg/g
- White Chocolate- .008 mg/g
The beans themselves can have varying amounts of methylxanthine depending on the variety of beans, the source, and even different growing conditions. While these amounts may be useful as a general guideline, it is always best to contact a veterinary professional for further advice as soon as possible.
Your Dog Found your Chocolate Stash! What Next?
Whether your dog got chocolate because the kids fed them a candy bar, or because moved in to clean up a kitchen mess before you could, or you just stumbled upon the crumpled and soggy remains of your chocolate stash you are asking yourself the same question. What do I do now?
If it is within the first two hours of eating the chocolate, your veterinarian may want to induce vomiting to purge the stomach of as much of the chocolate as possible, as well as giving the dog activated charcoal to help prevent reabsorption of the chemicals.
While there is no antidote for chocolate poisoning, your veterinarian can support your pet in many ways, giving them a better chance at survival. IV fluids may be offered to counteract the diuretic effects of chocolate poisoning, catheters are recommended to help prevent reabsorption, and in some cases, drugs will be given to control your dog’s heart rate and to prevent convulsions.
Signs and Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning for Dogs
It can take several hours for the signs of theobromine toxicity to develop, and once they do they can last for several days. Not only does theobromine have a long half-life, but it can be reabsorbed back into the body from the bladder, causing symptoms to reoccur.
If your canine companion is exhibiting the symptoms in the list below a call to your veterinarian may be in order, even if you didn’t witness your dog eating chocolate.
Early symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs:
- Vomiting- often smells of chocolate
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive Drooling
Advanced symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs:
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle tremors
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Blood in the urine
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Carob – A Safe Alternative for your Pooch
Some dogs love chocolate, and it can be hard to explain to your pup that their favorite flavor is dangerous to them. While white chocolate and milk chocolate have somewhat lower amounts of theobromine than their richer siblings, they still contain higher amounts of milk fat and sugar than are good for your dog.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. Many dogs also love the nutty, slightly chocolaty flavor of carob, which has none of the theobromine or caffeine and contains calcium, iron, and vitamin B. Carob is also naturally sweeter than chocolate, so it doesn’t require as much sugar to process. It can be used in any recipe that calls for chocolate, and pairs well with peanut butter.
Pst… looking for other snacks to delight your doggo? Here are a few easy recipes.
This sweet treat for humans is far too hard on the canine system, and should never be offered to our pets, no matter how much they beg. If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Be prepared to give them as much information as you have available about the type of chocolate that was eaten, the amount, and the size of your canine companion.
Early intervention is often the key to ensuring a positive outcome in chocolate poisoning cases.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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