Chocolate and Dogs: Save the Candy for Yourself

It’s gotten into the popular consciousness that chocolate is toxic to dogs — and it is. I have treated quite a few cases in my almost 20 years as an ER vet. The main issue is how much chocolate your dog ate — and what type of chocolate they consumed. If your 80-lb. lab snarfs up two Hershey’s Kisses, the worst you’re in for is some tummy rumbles and maybe a little diarrhea. But if your 8-lb. Papillion eats a 1 oz. square of baking chocolate, you may be in for a trip to the ER — day or night.

As a general rule, if your dog eats more than a few pieces of milk chocolate, it’s best to call your vet or an animal poison control center (info below) for advice on how to proceed. Most of the cases I have seen have done well with just supportive care, but a few have been real doozies that needed ICU-level care. Read on for more info on how chocolate can affect your dog.

What to watch out for: The active ingredient in chocolate that causes problems with dogs (cats are usually too smart to eat it) is called theobromine, which is a distant cousin of caffeine. The symptoms are caused by excitation to the nervous system, like a caffeine overdose. Watch for:

  • Nervousness/restlessness
  • Panting
  • Twitching
  • Seizures in severe cases

Just ingesting chocolate, which most dogs don’t typically eat every day, can cause an upset stomach. In these cases, you can see:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of appetite

If you notice any signs after your dog eats chocolate, best to have them evaluated by a veterinarian or emergency clinic quickly. The theobromine can also cause a dangerously rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, both of which may require treatment.

What to do: A small amount of milk chocolate, like the amount found in a chocolate chip cookie, is not a problem. For larger, recent exposures, getting your dog to vomit up the chocolate is enough. Your veterinarian or local emergency clinic can help you with this, so call them if your dog has ingested chocolate. They can help you decide when, how and where to induce vomiting and if further therapy is needed. For cases where your dog is showing signs of chocolate toxicity, they can also start treatment and contact an animal poison control center for guidance. Animal poison control (fees apply) can be reached at:

  • ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426 4435
  • Pet Poison Helpline: (800) 213-6680

Be sure to keep dogs away from chocolate and treat only with doggie-specific goodies!

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