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Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Can chocolate be poisonous for my dog?

Chocolate is derived from roasted, ground seeds of the cacao tree and contains methylxanthine theobromine – a chemical similar to caffeine. Theobromine acts as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator and smooth muscle relaxant in animals and humans. Dogs metabolise theobromine very slowly thereby enhancing the effects and toxicity to pets. Chocolate ingestion is one of the most common causes of canine poisoning and can lead to illness and even death. Contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten chocolate. Theobromine can be poisonous and result in severe clinical signs, especially if untreated.

Symptoms that your pet may have chocolate toxicity:

Symptoms in dogs do not appear until 6-12 hours after chocolate ingestion.

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures

Which chocolate is more dangerous for your dog?

The type and amount of chocolate ingested by your pet will determine the level of severity. The more concentrated the level of theobromine in the chocolate, the more toxic the dose. 0.2 ounces of baker’s chocolate is sufficient to cause symptoms of toxicity in a 10 pound dog. 1.6 ounces of milk chocolate is sufficient to cause symptoms of toxicity in a 10 pound dog.

Concentrations of theobromine in various forms of chocolate (generalisations):

  • white chocolate – 1mg/ounce
  • milk chocolate – 60mg/ounce
  • semi sweet chocolate – 260mg/ounce
  • dark chocolate – 300mg/ounce
  • baking chocolate – 450mg/ounce
  • cocoa shell yard mulch – 300-1200mg/ounce

Though white chocolate and milk chocolate have lower levels of theobromine, the sugar and fat content can cause potentially life threatening pancreatitis.

Theobromine levels and effect on the body:

  • 20mg theobromine per kg body weight – mild gastrointestinal
  • symptoms greater than 40mg/kg – heart arrhythmias
  • greater than 60mg/kg – muscle tremors and seizures

Foods THAT ARE Dangerous for Dogs

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Apple seeds
  • Avocados
  • Cherry pits
  • Candy (particularly chocolate—which is toxic to dogs, cats, and ferrets—and any candy containing the toxic sweetener Xylitol)
  • Tea (because it contains caffeine)
  • Coffee (grounds, beans, and chocolate-covered espresso beans)
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Gum (can cause blockages and sugar free gums may contain toxic sweetener Xylitol)
  • Mushroom plants
  • Mustard seeds
  • Onions and onion powder
  • Raisins
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener)

Diagnosis

If you suspect your pet has eaten chocolate, treatment is initiated immediately without waiting for official diagnosis. Try to calculate how much the pet has eaten (how many candy bars, brownies, cake) and note the type and brand of chocolate (have the packaging available if possible). Be sure when scheduling a veterinarian appointment to tell him how much your pet weighs, describe when you think your pet ate the chocolate, how much, and of what type. If the pet has not eaten a toxic amount of chocolate, a veterinarian may ask you to induce vomiting at home and/or carefully monitor your pet for symptoms over the next 4-6 hours. If the pet has eaten a potentially toxic amount of chocolate in the last 1-2 hours, your vet will ask you to induce vomiting at home or bring the pet to the clinic to induce vomiting. The goal is to induce vomiting as quickly as possible. After two hours, the toxin has already entered the bloodstream and it may be too late for vomiting to aid in treating toxicity. Your veterinarian will take a thorough history to determine whether your pet has gotten into trash, cocoa shell yard mulch, or other toxic substances or whether another underlying cause of symptoms is present. A complete physical exam will help in the diagnosis. Blood analysis (complete blood cell count and chemistry) and urinalysis will aid in detection of disease or organ failure. Electrocardiography (EKG) can detect heart arrhythmias and abnormalities. Radiographs may aid in ruling out other causes for symptoms.

Treatment

By the time symptoms of chocolate poisoning appear, supportive therapy is the only treatment. There is no antidote for chocolate toxicity. Inducing vomiting must be done within two hours of chocolate ingestion to be effective. If you are far from the veterinary clinic, your vet may ask that you induce vomiting at home. Follow the instructions given by your veterinarian carefully. You may want to go outdoors or have a large bowl nearby. By mouth, give your pet one-half tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide (the usual household concentration) for every 10 pounds of body weight. You can use a syringe without a needle or a medicine dropper. The pet should vomit within 10 minutes. If the pet does not vomit, call your vet who may suggest bringing it to the clinic or giving additional hydrogen peroxide. If you decide to take your pet to the clinic to induce vomiting, the veterinarian may use a drug like apomorphine to induce vomiting right away. Your veterinarian will often give activated charcoal orally to absorb any remaining theobromine from the gastrointestinal tract. After vomiting induction and/or charcoal treatment, your pet will need to be monitored for symptoms for 4-6 hours. If symptoms occur, supportive therapy will be required to keep your pet safe and stable until toxicity wears off. This can take up to 72 hours. Intravenous fluid administration can help to dilute theobromine levels in the bloodstream and promote excretion. Benzodiazepines (valium) may be administered to control seizures and muscle tremors. Anti-arrhythmic medications can aid in controlling heart arrhythmias.

Recovery

A pet that has been treated for symptoms of chocolate poisoning will need to be monitored until symptoms reside. Recovery from chocolate toxicity depends on the severity and how soon treatment was administered. Recovery can be complete and prognosis good if caught and treated early (within two hours of ingestion). Chocolate poisoning can be lethal at high doses. Always keep chocolate out of reach of your pet.

Hiding chocolate is not sufficient since chocolate has a strong smell and a pet can find it. Keep chocolate where a pet cannot get to it (high up and in a sealed container).


Dr Sharad Singh Yadav is the Chairman of Advanced Pet Hospital & Research Centre which is open 24 hours throughout the year and located in Bishal Nagar, Kathmandu. He may be contacted on tel: 4422855 or email: aphktm@gmail.com