About two years ago, my mischievous Manchester Terrier (Ziggy) raided a box of chocolates that fell from my kitchen counter onto the floor. By the time I discovered this mishap, Ziggy had gobbled about 4 small chocolates. I was in a panic. I knew chocolates could be very bad for dogs, but would 4 small chocolates be enough to kill her? I rang Ziggy’s vet immediately. The vet was very reassuring, telling me that chocolate was indeed toxic to dogs, but Ziggy had not eaten enough for her to be affected. I was relieved (and Ziggy turned out fine) but I was curious as to why chocolate was toxic to dogs and in what quantity.
Why is chocolate toxic to dogs?
I have since learned that chocolate contains theobromine, naturally found in cocoa beans. Although it is not harmful to humans, theobromine is highly toxic to dogs (and other domestic animals, such as horses). Theobromine is a stimulant (similar to caffeine) and so affects the central nervous system and heart.
How can you tell if your dog has eaten too much chocolate?
Although chocolate in small quantities is not harmful, as a precaution dogs should never be given any chocolate. Why? Have you noticed that people have a hard time eating just one potato chip? Well, the same goes for dogs and chocolate – one taste and they will want (and seek out) more.
Although you probably do not give your dog chocolate, accidents do occur. If your dog has eaten chocolate, the following information will help you decide what to do about it.
There are two main factors that will determine whether the dog will have a toxic reaction to chocolate:
(i) the concentration of theobromine in the chocolate compared to the dog’s weight; and
(ii) its individual age and health.
The concentration of theobromine compared to the dog’s weight
Milk chocolate and white chocolate have a smaller concentration of theobromine are therefore less toxic than dark or cooking chocolate.
Here’s a guide to each type of chocolate:
White chocolate: It takes 113.4 kilograms (250 pounds) of white chocolate to poison a 9 kilogram (20 pound) dog.
Milk or semi-sweet chocolate: Approximately half a kilogram (1 pound) of milk chocolate is poisonous to a 9 kilogram (20 pound) dog. As an example, it would take about 2-3 chocolate/candy bars to poison a 5 kilogram (10 pound) dog.
Cooking or baking chocolate: 57 grams (2 ounces) of baking/cooking chocolate is poisonous to a 9 kilogram (20-pound) dog.
Health and age
If the dog is aged or not at optimum health, its tolerance to chocolate may be lowered.
Symptoms of poisoning
If your dog has eaten a toxic amount of chocolate, it will show the following symptoms within the first two hours: vomiting, diarrhea or hyperactivity. The symptoms will then progress to increased heart rate, arrhythmia, restlessness, muscle twitching, increased urination or excessive panting. More dire symptoms include hyperthermia, muscle tremors, seizures, coma and death.
Treatment for chocolate poisoning
There are three steps in the first aid treatment of chocolate poisoning:
1. Induce vomiting
In order to do this you can give 1-2 teaspoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide every 15 minutes until the dog purges. Or, give it a single dose of 2-3 teaspoons of “Syrup of Ipecac”.
2. Administer an absorption agent
Once vomiting has been induced, it is important to immediately reduce the absorption of theobromine in the dog’s stomach. Therefore, give activated charcoal mixed with water. The dose is 1 teaspoon for dogs less than 11.3 kilograms (25 pounds) and 2 teaspoons for dogs weighing more than 11.3 kilograms (25 pounds).
3. Consult your vet
Advise your vet of the following details:
(i) how much chocolate the dog has eaten;
(ii) what type of chocolate;
(iii) how long ago the dog ate the chocolate;
(iv) the symptoms it is experiencing;
(v) the age and general health of your dog; and
(vi) any first aid you have given it.
It is a great idea to have Syrup of Ipecac, activated charcoal and 3% hydrogen peroxide in your pet’s first aid kit in case your dog eats a toxic amount of chocolate or other poison.
The author is not a vet, please consult your vet if you believe your dog has eaten chocolate or any other poisonous substance.