Dogs and Chocolate- Nothing to Snicker about!

Sad Dog

The time of year is upon us where chocolate is everywhere! Many of us crave it, and our dogs love it as much as we do. Unfortunately, chocolate is toxic to our furry companions. When the trail of chocolate morsels and torn wrappers leads to your dog, it should always be considered a potential emergency.  In fact,according to the Animal Poison Control Center, chocolate is considered one of the 20 most common poisonings reported nationally.

Why Chocolate Hurts

What makes chocolate so dangerous for dogs and what are some possible symptoms of chocolate toxicity?  Well, this toxicity occurs because of a compound in chocolate called theobromine, which is similar to caffeine, and poisonous to dogs.  When ingested, theobromine initiates a release of epinephrine (adrenaline), causing the heart to race, blood vessels to constrict and the central nervous system to become stimulated.

According to Dr. Natalie Marks, one of the owners of Blum Animal Hospital, some initial symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhea within the first 2-4 hours of ingesting chocolate.  Other symptoms include restlessness, hyperactivity, increased frequency of urination, stiffness and seizures.   As the toxicity progresses, dogs can develop a low body temperature, muscle tremors, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and, sadly, even heart failure and death just 12-36 hours after eating the chocolate.

According to Dr. Natalie Marks, one of the owners of Blum Animal Hospital, some initial symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhea within the first 2-4 hours of ingesting chocolate.  Other symptoms include restlessness, hyperactivity, increased frequency of urination, stiffness and seizures.   As the toxicity progresses, dogs can develop a low body temperature, muscle tremors, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and, sadly, even heart failure and death just 12-36 hours after eating the chocolate.

How much is TOO much?

The big question remains:   how much chocolate is too much?   The accepted theory is a dose of 50 milligrams of theobromine per 1 pound of body weight can be fatal to a dog.  Because different forms of chocolate contain varied concentrations of theobromine, we should look at the three main forms of chocolate (Milk, Semisweet and Baker’s) and see what constitutes a toxic dose:

Milk chocolate = 1 ounce per 1 pound of body weight

Semisweet chocolate = 1 ounce per 3 pounds of body weight

Baker’s chocolate = 1 ounce per 9 pounds of body weight

As a frame of reference, an average Hershey chocolate bar is 1.55oz and a king size bar is 2.5oz.  It’s clear how ingesting just a small amount of chocolate can be very serious, especially for small breed dogs.

As a frame of reference, an average Hershey chocolate bar is 1.55oz and a king size bar is 2.5oz.  It’s clear how ingesting just a small amount of chocolate can be very serious, especially for small breed dogs.

How do our vets at Blum Animal Hospital treat Chocolate Toxicity?

The rule of thumb is the sooner the better!  If it’s caught early and the patient is not having seizures, treatment starts by inducing vomiting.   Activated charcoal can also be given to help absorb unwanted substances in the gastrointestinal tract.   When more serious symptoms are observed, our vets use medications to control seizures and abnormal heart rhythms. Additional supportive treatment may entail fluid and oxygen therapy.  Patients who are identified within 2-4 hours of eating chocolate carry a good prognosis, but unfortunately, patients having convulsions and heart problems carry a more guarded prognosis.

At Blum Animal Hospital, we know how much your pet means to you and our goal is to keep your dog and cat healthy and happy!  Remember to keep your chocolate stashes safely out of reach from your pets. If you suspect your dog has ingested some chocolate, call our hospital as soon as possible and our incredible team will do everything possible to treat your furry friend.

Written by Kimberly Cerny for Blum Animal Hospital