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Why Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate toxicity in dogs is a dangerous condition.

Chocolate is a popular treat, loved by many. It's around all of the time but especially surrounding holidays. It's an extremely common event for dogs to get into and get sick from these chocolate delights. Most people know that chocolate isn't safe for dogs to consume, but why is chocolate bad for dogs?

Chocolate Is High in Sugar and Fat

Chocolate is high in both fat and sugar. These substances are both metabolized poorly by dogs, and can cause GI upset, vomiting, and diarrhea, or a more serious illness called pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that results in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, and anorexia. Pancreatitis may need to be treated through inpatient therapy at a veterinary clinic, as severe pancreatitis is life-threatening.

Chocolate Contains Theobromine and Caffeine: Both are Toxic to Dogs

Beyond the fat and sugar that are irritating to a dogs system, chocolate also contains two substances that are truly toxic to dogs: theobromine and caffeine. These are both part of the methylxanthine family of chemicals. These chemicals stimulate the cardiac and neurologic systems in the dog. Therefore, theobromine and caffeine toxicity leads to:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate that progresses to a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Death

The toxic effects of chocolate are dose-dependent, meaning that they vary depending on the amount of theobromine in the consumed product, the amount of the product that is ingested, and the size of the animal.

Is All Chocolate Equally Toxic to Dogs?

Different chocolate items contain varying amounts of actual cocoa, and this affects the amount of theobromine contained in these products. Unsweetened, baking chocolate contains the highest amount of theobromine, 390-450 mg per ounce, followed by dark chocolate, 150-200 mg per ounce, and then milk chocolate, 44-50 mg/ounce. White chocolate has a negligible amount of theobromine in it, but it often has higher fat and sugar levels.

The lethal dose of chocolate for a dog or cat is based on body weight.

Here is an example of the amounts of different types of chocolate (in ounces) that a 10-pound dog or cat would need to eat to see toxic effects:

  Milk Chocolate Dark Chocolate Baking Chocolate
Mild Effects 2 0.6 0.2
Toxic Dose 4 1.4 0.5

Treatment of Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

As indicated, a very small amount of some types of chocolate can be toxic to dogs. If your dog has eaten any chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately. There is no specific antidote to this toxin, and it takes several days for theobromine to be excreted from the body, so hospitalization and supportive care may be necessary. Your veterinarian may recommend any or all of the following treatments, depending on how much chocolate has been ingested and the signs of toxicity your dog is exhibiting:

  • Induction of vomiting to remove remaining chocolate from the stomach before it can be absorbed
  • Activated charcoal by mouth to bind and prevent further absorption of theobromine from the gastrointestinal tract
  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, replenish electrolytes, and promote flushing of the toxin
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Anti-emetics for nausea
  • Cardiac support for increased or abnormal heart rates

If your veterinarian is unavailable, call your local veterinary emergency center or the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888)426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855)764-7661. There is a fee for these consultations, but time may be of the essence if your dog has ingested a toxic substance like chocolate.

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