Help, My Dog Ate Chocolate!

A dog begging for chocolate.

Most dog lovers have some inkling that they are not supposed to feed their pet chocolate. Many have had the experience of sharing a small amount, though, without ill effects. At Beverly HIlls Veterinary Associates, our clients often ask how serious chocolate toxicity really is. So what does chocolate do to dogs actually, and if your dog ate chocolate, how worried do you need to be? Keep reading to find out.

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

The actual cause of toxicity in dogs who ingest chocolate is mainly due to a pesky little compound called theobromine. Humans who enjoy chocolate metabolize this compound without issue, but pets are another story. They metabolize theobromine more slowly, which results in dangerous side effects. 

Theobromine acts similarly to caffeine in pets who ingest it. It can lead to symptoms including:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • High heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Chocolate also contains caffeine, which leads to similar effects. The higher fat content of some chocolates can also cause trouble with digestion and even lead to pancreatitis.

Symptoms are not always visible when a dog eats chocolate because chocolate toxicity is dose dependent. This means that a certain milligram of theobromine per kilogram of body weight needs to be reached before symptoms are noted. More severe symptoms such as seizures occur at higher doses. Smaller pets are going to be more sensitive to chocolate ingestion than larger dogs.

Not all chocolate is the same. More bitter chocolate contains more theobromine. Baking chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and dark chocolate are much more dangerous than milk chocolate or white chocolate. This means that an adult labrador may be able to sneak a Hershey’s Kiss with no ill effects, but getting into your baking cabinet could be fatal.

It is best to steer clear of chocolate for pets whenever possible to be safe with so many factors involved. 

My Dog Ate Chocolate, Now What?

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a dog eats chocolate. If you know that your pet has ingested this potential toxin, it is best to call us right away. Fast action can make a big difference in what happens to your pet. Do not wait for symptoms to develop in a pet who has ingested a toxin. 

If ingestion is caught quickly enough, proactive treatments such as the induction of vomiting and administration of activated charcoal can really prevent serious consequences. 

You can also reach out to the Pet Poison Control service who, for a fee, have round-the-clock veterinary toxicology experts who can help determine what actions need to be taken for your pet. This can be extremely helpful when the amount and type of chocolate ingested isn’t easily calculated. 

Chocolate ingestion can be very serious in our pet patients. Store it similarly to any other household toxin to prevent serious consequences. If your dog eats chocolate, it isn’t always cause for extreme panic, but it is best to avoid it if possible. Understanding the dose-dependent nature of chocolate toxicity is helpful to know when to worry and we are here to guide you through that judgment call.