Chocolate is easily one of the dogs’ most “famous” toxic foods. Every dog owner should know that their canine cannot eat chocolate without severe consequences. However, the realities of chocolate toxicity in dogs are much more complicated.
Chocolate is not necessarily as toxic to dogs as many people believe. Most dogs can stomach a little bit of chocolate without a problem, though it depends on the dog’s size and the type of chocolate. Plus, some dogs are just more sensitive than others.
Chocolate is rarely fatal in dogs. However, it can cause illness. Let’s look at why chocolate is toxic to dogs to understand why better.
Why is Chocolate Toxic to Dogs?
Chocolate is toxic because it contains two chemicals: theobromine and caffeine. Both of these chemicals do similar things. Therefore, when your dog eats chocolate, the effects are multiplied.
Caffeine affects dogs similarly to humans. It can cause your dog’s heart rate to rise, its blood vessels to dilate, and its muscles to relax. It may also make them thirsty and cause excessive urination due to increased drinking.
While many people can consume caffeine without a huge problem, this isn’t necessarily the case with dogs. Most do not metabolize these substances efficiently, so they stay around longer. Of course, this also means the dog will experience the effects for longer.
How Much Chocolate is Toxic to Dogs?
The amount of theobromine and caffeine in chocolate varies. Darker chocolate contains less sugar and milk, meaning the actual cocoa is more concentrated. Baking and dark chocolate have the highest concentrations of these substances, making them more toxic.
On the other hand, white chocolate hardly contains any chocolate, as it is mostly milk and sugar. Therefore, this type of chocolate is hardly toxic at all, despite its name. However, excessive sugar can cause dogs to become sick anyway.
Milk chocolate is somewhere between these two extremes.
How much chocolate your dog would need to eat to become “poisoned” depends on their size, too. Smaller dogs can consume much less than larger dogs before they develop symptoms.
That said, most dogs can ingest small amounts of milk chocolate just fine. Most toxicity reports occur after a stronger type of chocolate is consumed.
What Are the Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity?
The symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs are often similar to what you’d expect from too much caffeine. Symptoms include restlessness, increased thirst, panting, excessive urination, and a racing heart rate. Vomiting and diarrhea can occur as well. However, these two symptoms are often caused by stomach upset due to the sugar found in the chocolate.
Complications rarely occur, and poisoning is rarely fatal. The most common complication is aspiration pneumonia due to vomiting.
When in doubt, contacting your vet or pet poison control is often best. They will often tell you to watch your pet for serious symptoms. However, very small dogs or pets at risk for complications may need to be seen immediately.
The effects of chocolate often take hours to rear their head, and they may continue for days. Therefore, this illness is often a long one that requires endurance. Dogs must be watched the entire time, as you never know when worse symptoms may develop.
Dogs do not metabolize theobromine very fast, so the symptoms can hang around much longer than we might expect.
However, this chemical is thought to be absorbed by the bladder, allowing the body to pass it out in the urine. Therefore, dogs are often encouraged to drink and may require extra potty breaks.
How Long Can Chocolate Stay in a Dog’s System?
Chocolate may stay in a dog’s system for four days or more. Of course, it isn’t the chocolate remaining in the dog’s system but the theobromine that the chocolate contains. Dogs have a very hard time metabolizing this chemical, which means that it tends to stick around for a bit.
Drinking may help the bladder metabolize this chemical. However, there aren’t many studies done on this just yet.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Chocolate?
Firstly, don’t panic. Try to find out precisely what chocolate your dog consumed and how much. The amount and type matter substantially.
Next, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline. Be ready to provide information about your dog (like weight) and the chocolate consumed. This information helps determine if the amount of chocolate consumed was toxic.
If the amount is expected to be toxic, then your dog may need to be examined by a vet. However, you may be informed to watch your dog for severe symptoms since this kind of poisoning is rarely fatal.
What is the Treatment for Chocolate Toxicity?
Sadly, there is no way to eliminate theobromine and caffeine from your dog’s system completely. If caught early enough, the vet may administer activated charcoal to prevent the body from absorbing the toxic chemicals, or they may induce vomiting. Activated charcoal may need to be repeated due to the long lifespan of theobromine.
Furthermore, your canine may require supportive treatment. For instance, IV fluids may help increase the amount of theobromine processed by the bladder. Plus, dogs with vomiting and diarrhea may be at risk for dehydration. Rarely, excessive restlessness may need treatment with sedatives.
Therefore, hospitalization may be required for some dogs.
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- VCA Animal Hospital, Available here: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/chocolate-poisoning-in-dogs