Why Is Chocolate Bad For Dogs?

Everyone loves chocolate. 

You love it and there’s a pretty fat chance your canine feels the same way. Given the chance, they would gobble it up and give you the puppy eyes to sneak them some more. However, the fact still remains that chocolate is toxic to your furry friend; and even ingesting a small amount could be toxic to their health

In mild cases, it could lead to diarrhea and tremors. But in a terrible case, you could be dealing with heart attacks, internal bleeding, or even death. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about what happens when your buddy eats chocolate, what to do when that accident happens and possible alternatives to chocolate bars.

Why Is Chocolate so Toxic?

According to Scientific America, chocolate contains an alkaloid called theobromine which is in the same family as caffeine and is also a stimulant. Specifically, it stimulates the cardiovascular system, the central nervous system, and even an increase in blood pressure. Dogs, and other animals such as cats and horses, find it incredibly difficult to metabolize these substances; unlike humans. 

Chocolate placed over a table with its pieces broken

Their slow metabolism of caffeine and theobromine allows for a build-up of these substances to toxic levels and causes the manifestation of clinical signs. Some of these signs include:

The signs may not develop until six to twelve hours after ingestion and may last up to three days, according to the American Kennel Club.

How Much Chocolate Is Too Much For Your Dog?

There are two major factors that could affect the toxicity threat to your dog — the type of chocolate ingested and the dose of the chocolate. 

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Different chocolates contain varying amounts of theobromine. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs’ health. Hence, cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, and gourmet dark chocolate are the most toxic. This group contains between 130-450 milligrams of theobromine in every ounce. 

Milk chocolate comprises around 50-58 milligrams of theobromine per ounce. White chocolate is the least toxic and contains a theobromine level of 0.25 milligrams per ounce.

However, regardless of whether your furry friend is still healthy after ingesting chocolate, you should keep them far away from it. 

A study by a group of pharmacologists and toxicologists shows that continuous exposure of your pet to any level of theobromine could lead to degenerative cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is an illness in which the heart muscles are considerably weakened and are unable to pump blood to other parts of the body. It could eventually lead to heart failure. 

Your dogs size matters

The size of your pet is also another factor that could affect chocolate toxicity. If you own a large dog (say a German Shepherd or a Caucasian Shepherd) a low dose of theobromine which could cause an upset stomach, could be life-threatening for a Yorkshire Terrier or a Chihuahua. Alternatively, you can use this toxicity calculator to measure your dog’s risk based on the amount of chocolate ingested and his/her weight.

Now that you know you’re not supposed to give chocolate to your dog, what can you do when an accident happens? Say for example a piece of chocolate falls off and your dog grabs it before you could or you give them a bite of something you didn’t know had chocolate in it.

The first thing you need to do is contact your vet. Don’t wait for your pet to start showing clinical signs before tackling the problem. There is little that can be done for your dog at home once the chocolate is in its bloodstream. The sooner they get help, the higher their chances of recovering fast.

Your vet may want to know right off the bat the type of chocolate ingested, and how much was consumed. They can help you calculate the risk to your dog by taking important information. If possible, show your vet the packaging so that they can know the ingredients of the item your dog digested. 

If a visit to your vet is not possible, contact an emergency vet clinic or the ASPCA Emergency Poison Hotline. They will take you through what to do next.

What Treatment is given for chocolate toxicity?

The treatment to be given depends on the dose of chocolate ingested. 

When low doses are ingested, activated charcoal is usually administered. The activated charcoal induces vomiting and helps to remove the toxins from the body before it enters the bloodstream. Hence, activated charcoal is more effective if administered immediately after ingestion. In some scenarios, it may be administered several times to reduce the chances of reabsorption.

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Sometimes, intravenous fluid therapy may be administered to help with hydration and supportive care.

When large doses are ingested, anti-seizure treatment and anti-diarrhea treatment would also be given. Dogs in such extreme cases could be hospitalized for proper monitoring of heart rate and blood pressure.

What can your dog eat aside from chocolate?

We get that you may want to reward your fur baby with a treat on various occasions. Since chocolates are a no-go, there are several dog alternatives that you can give your buddy. 

Healthy snacks such as apples, blueberries/blackberries, cucumbers, bananas, watermelons, green beans, sweet potatoes, and bread, are not a bad idea. Asides from providing them with the necessary nutrients they need, showering them with little cubes of colorful healthy snacks is a great way to start.

If you’re being naughty and want to spoil them with some sweets, peanut butter, plain popcorn and cheese is also another safe option.

ways to prevent your dog from eating chocolate

limit access to chocolate

During holiday seasons such as Christmas and Easter, it’s not uncommon for more chocolate to be lying around the house. Store these products out of the reach of your dogs. 

If you have children around the house who are likely to give your pets a chocolate treat, teach them that chocolate is a bad idea. And for visitors, remind them not to share their sweets (in spite of those puppy dog eyes), and be mindful of leftovers on countertops—if your fur baby is a known scavenger.

teach your dog commands

A boy commanding his dog

Teaching your pups simple commands such as ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’ would prove useful to keep them safe from those substances. it’s advised to start training them with such commands at an early age.

crate train them

A crate is a cozy place for him to rest in when he wants to be alone or when you can’t watch over him. Ensure the crate is comfortable, filled with his favorite toys and blanket big enough for him to turn around, and make his personal cave. That way, he can be out of hams way when the need arises.

In Summary

Remember the order of toxicity;

  1. Cocoa powder is extremely toxic
  2. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate
  3. Semisweet chocolate
  4. Dark chocolate
  5. Milk chocolate

It’s too easy for dogs to sniff out a good treat when they catch a whiff of it—even though it was tucked in a safe place or a closed bag. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to be on the lookout for your dog. They’ll thank you later for it.