Dogs and Chocolate
An Indulgence to Humans, Toxic to Dogs
Let’s face it. Most people tend to have a little chocolate tucked somewhere around the house. What many people don’t realize is that if their pup gets his paws on this rich treat it can trigger a number of toxic reactions including possible death.
"Approximately 97 percent of the cases involving chocolate toxicity are associated with dogs," says Dr. Justine Lee, associate director of veterinary services and emergency critical care specialist at Pet Poison Helpline, as “cats have a much more discriminating non-chocolate palate.”
Whether you live in a dog or cat household, it’s important to lock up chocolate safely in secured kitchen cabinets. This includes Halloween and Easter candy, along with less obvious sources like chocolate-flavored chewable, daily vitamins. When baking, make sure to keep chocolate chips and baking ingredients out of reach until immediate use; once you’re done making the treats, store them safely out of reach (like hidden away in the microwave). Prevention is always key when it comes to tasty chocolate!
Level of Toxicity
Different types of chocolate contain various levels of fat, caffeine and the substances methylxanthines. In general, the darker and richer the chocolate (i.e., baker’s chocolate), the higher the risk of toxicity. Depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested, dogs might experience vomiting, diarrhea, urination, hyperactivity, heart arrhythmias, tremors and seizures.
Dark chocolate is about 10 times as toxic as milk chocolate.
Death is actually very rare, only occurring in about 1 in every 3,000 chocolate intoxication cases. Small dogs or dogs with a history of diabetes, pancreatitis, or heart problems are typically more sensitive to chocolate than large, healthy dogs.
Dark chocolate is about 10 times as toxic as milk chocolate. To understand various levels of chocolate intoxication, here are some simple guidelines:
- White chocolate: Not necessarily toxic but high sugar and fat contents can lead to vomiting and other illnesses like pancreatitis.
- Milk chocolate: Low levels of intoxication.
- Baking chocolate and dark chocolate: High levels of intoxication.
Keep in mind that there are many things other than simply Hersey Kisses and big old chocolate bars that contain methylxanthines. Chocolate cake, fudge, brownies, cocoa powder, cocoa beans and even caffeine pills such as NoDoz can make dogs sick. (If your pup wolfs down one chocolate chip cookie, don’t worry – it shouldn’t cause a problem – the amount of real chocolate in just one is minimal.
Lee recommends that when a dog ingests chocolate, owners should immediately call a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline’s 24-hour Animal Poison Control at 1-800-213-6680. “We can help guide owners in calculating just how much methylxanthine is ingested, and whether or not the amount will affect their pet.”
Depending on the severity of the situation, a pet owner might be instructed to induce vomiting at home or rush the dog to the clinic for activated charcoal treatment to absorb the toxins.
In non-life threatening circumstances, veterinarians might just tell owners what to expect (i.e., chocolate diarrhea, vomiting) and to keep an eye on the pet while the sickness passes.
If you're interested in reading more about pet toxicities, you may enjoy our story on the top pet toxins and other pet food toxins.
*A fee is billed by Pet Poison Helpline. PPH is not affiliated with VPI Pet Insurance.
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