My Dog Ate Chocolate . . . Now What?

5 min read

My Dog Ate Chocolate . . . Now What? - Animals Matter, Inc.

Christmas, Halloween, and Easter have one thing in common. Chocolate! Holidays, especially Christmas, are the most dangerous times for your four-legged companions. With holiday excitement and guest-generated chaos, it's easy for your dog to eat chocolate. That doesn't mean your pet will only ingest chocolate on holidays. No. They willingly consume chocolate any time it's available.

If your dog ingests chocolate, do you know what to do? Do you know how much chocolate leads to a medical emergency? Learning the dangers of chocolate to your canine friends ensures a positive outcome for everyone.

Why is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate comes from the roasted seeds of the Theobroma cacao plant, which contains two toxic components found in methylxanthine alkaloids -- theobromine and caffeine. Humans process methylxanthine alkaloids easily. For example, theobromine has a half-life of two to three hours in humans. Its half-life in dogs is 18 to 24 hours.

Dogs absorb food ingredients much slower than humans. Their metabolism occurs in the liver and requires recirculation before they can excrete the toxic elements. That means it takes dogs longer to excrete contaminants such as theobromine.

What Does Chocolate Do to Dogs?

Theobromine acts as a stimulant. It affects the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems. Dogs become over-excited, begin panting, and may exhibit muscle twitching. As the poisoning progresses, it can result in cardiac arrest, seizures, and death. No antidote for chocolate poisoning exists, but symptom management can reduce its effects. Intravenous fluids, oxygen, and induced vomiting, when administered by a licensed veterinarian, can help reduce toxicity.

How Much Chocolate is Too Much?

A fatal dose of chocolate depends on the type and amount of chocolate. Cocoa powder has the most toxicity per ounce, followed by:

  • Unsweetened baker's chocolate
  • Semisweet chocolate
  • Dark chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • White chocolate

Dark, bitter chocolate, such as baking chocolate and dark chocolate, has high concentrations of toxins. The lighter and sweeter the chocolate, the less toxicity it has. For example, white chocolate only has 0.25 mg of theobromine per ounce, while the darkest type of chocolate can have between 130-450 mg per ounce.

How toxic an ounce of chocolate is depends on the level of theobromine. You can determine if the amount of ingested chocolate is life-threatening using a chocolate toxicity calculator. For example, a 50-pound dog must ingest nine ounces of milk chocolate before showing signs of symptoms. The same dog would only need to ingest one ounce of baking chocolate to demonstrate symptoms. Even a small amount of baker's chocolate can produce symptoms in small dogs.

What are the Signs of Chocolate Poisoning?

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning usually begin between six and 12 hours after ingestion. Recovery may take up to three days, depending on the age of the dog and the poisoning's severity. Vomiting and diarrhea often appear first as the dog tries to clear the toxin from its system. Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle twitching or tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Increased urination
  • Rapid breathing
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

Severe chocolate poisoning can be fatal, especially in older dogs or those with cardiovascular weaknesses.

What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate?

Call your veterinarian immediately if you think your dog ate chocolate. If it is after hours and your vet does not have an emergency number, contact the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. Both centers operate 24/7.

You may be directed to monitor your pet for signs of poisoning. If symptoms are mild or do not progress, the vet may allow you to keep your dog at home with careful monitoring. Any changes in symptom severity should be reported. In severe cases, you may need to take your four-legged companion to a veterinary clinic.

The clinic might induce vomiting if your dog ate the chocolate less than two hours before arriving at the clinic. Activated charcoal is often used to remove the poison before it is absorbed into the dog's bloodstream. In moderate to severe poisonings, a veterinarian may want to keep the dog to administer IV fluids or provide supplemental treatment to minimize the toxin's effect. Depending on the severity, the vet may want to keep the dog overnight for monitoring.

How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Chocolate

No matter how much you love chocolate, as a dog owner, you should not share your love of chocolate with your dog. Your pet will view chocolate as a treat and consume as much as possible whenever it's available. Carob powder treats are a safe alternative to chocolate as it does not contain theobromine or caffeine.

To ensure your dog doesn't succumb to a love of chocolate, consider the following tips:

  • Train your dog to respond to commands such as "drop it or leave it." With a little effort, you can teach your dog to respond to these commands, which are useful whenever your pet tries to eat something it shouldn't.
  • Crate training is another technique that helps prevent dogs from eating chocolate. Teaching dogs to stay in a sturdy crate not only removes them from potential temptations but also serves as a safe place for them to go if they need quiet time or you can't watch them. Add a favorite toy and a soft blanket or bed, so the crate becomes a comfortable space for your dog.
  • Store chocolate out of reach. During holidays, identify a space for all chocolate. Whether it's Halloween bags or Christmas stockings, find a place your dog cannot reach. Countertops and tables are not out of reach for most dogs. Containers are not safe from crafty four-legged friends unless they are placed on high shelves or behind closed doors.
  • Remember to set hot chocolate mixes and cooking chocolate such as unsweetened or semi-sweet in hard-to-reach places. With careful planning, you can chocolate-proof your home and protect your dog from accidental poisoning.

Animal Matters offers crate pads and covers to turn crates into comforting places for dogs. You can surround your dogs with calming luxury while protecting them from ingesting harmful toxins. Take a look at our complete line of dog supplies to ensure your pets are safe and secure.

FAQs

How long does it take a dog to get sick after eating chocolate?

Because of their slow metabolism, dogs won't show symptoms for six to 12 hours after ingestion.

What can I give my dog after eating chocolate?

You should contact your vet or an animal poison helpline before treating your dog at home. You may be told to induce vomiting depending on when the chocolate was eaten.

What is the best way to keep my dog from eating chocolate again?

Store all kinds of chocolate on high shelves or behind closed doors to restrict access. Crate training your pet to keep them safe if you can't watch them and teach them to respond to commands such as "leave it."


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