The dangers of chocolate to dogs
The toxic ingredient in chocolate is a bitter-tasting stimulant called theobromine. It’s naturally found in cacao beans from which chocolate is derived. The amount of theobromine in chocolate typically depends on the type. Darker, purer chocolate tend to have the highest levels but it’s also found in milk and white chocolate.
What should I do if my dog has eaten chocolate?
Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has eaten chocolate so please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.
It will assist your vet if you can tell them how much chocolate your dog has eaten, what type of chocolate it was — wrappers can be very helpful — and when your dog ate the chocolate. This will enable them to work out whether your dog has eaten a toxic dose and what treatment they’re likely to need.
It will also help if you can provide an estimate of how heavy your dog is (click here to find out).
How soon do symptoms appear?
Theobromine mainly affects the heart, central nervous system and kidneys. Symptoms will occur between four and 24 hours after your dog has ingested theobromine and will vary depending on the amount.
What symptoms am I likely to see:
- vomiting (may include blood)
- restlessness and hyperactivity
- rapid breathing
- muscle tension, incoordination
- increased heart rate
How much chocolate is too much?
Our advice is not to give any chocolate to your dog, but if they have managed to get hold of some these are some guidelines you need to be aware of:
Firstly, you need to know how heavy your dog is (click here to find out). Theobromine doses in the region of 100-150 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight are toxic to dogs, so if you have a Labrador weighing 30kg, as little as 3,000mg of theobromine could be fatal. You’ll find that amount in one 500 gram bar of dark chocolate or 170 grams of baking chocolate, which is often less than a single bar. However, for West Highland Terriers weighing just 10kg these amounts should be reduced by two-thirds.
Effects of theobromine poisoning
The effect of theobromine poisoning depends on the amount eaten and the size of the dog. For example, a Labrador-sized dog that’s eaten 200g of milk chocolate is likely to have a stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea. At 500g of milk chocolate, it’s likely that cardiovascular problems and increased heart rate will be seen. Eating 750g of milk chocolate may result in seizures.
It can be hard to tell exactly how much your dog may have eaten and the amount of caffeine and theobromine in chocolate will vary due to growing conditions, cocoa bean sources and variety. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and contact your vet for advice if you’re concerned.
Amount of theobromine in 25 grams of chocolate:
- milk chocolate generally contains 44-64mg
- semi-sweet chocolate and sweet dark chocolate contains 150-160mg
- unsweetened (baking) chocolate typically contains 390-450mg
- dry cocoa powder has around 750 to 800mg per 25 grams
- white chocolate is unlikely to contain much
There is no antidote to theobromine. In most cases, your vet will make your dog vomit. They may wash out the stomach and feed activated charcoal which will absorb any theobromine left in the intestine. Other treatments will depend on the signs your dog is showing.
They may also need intravenous fluids (a drip), medication to control heart rate, blood pressure and seizure activity. With prompt intervention and treatment, the prognosis for a poisoned dog is usually good — even in those who have eaten large amounts of chocolate.
According to research, the annual chocolate market is worth more than £4bn and the average person eats around 10.2kg every year. But perhaps unsurprisingly, sales and consumption soar at Christmas and during Easter.