Let’s face it—chocolate is downright irresistible. Most people have chocolate in their homes, but the treat can be dangerous for dogs. Pets cannot metabolize chocolate’s stimulant compounds and can suffer serious neurologic problems if they eat this tasty treat. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center receives more than 100 calls per day from people whose dogs have ingested chocolate, making this one of the most common canine toxicities. Our Smithtown Animal Hospital team explains how you can prevent your dog from experiencing chocolate’s serious or life-threatening toxicity. Learn the answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about this condition.

Why is chocolate toxic to dogs?

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are methylxanthines, compounds that have a mild stimulant effect on people. However, pets are significantly more sensitive to these substances’ stimulant effects. Rather than feeling awake and alert, a dog who consumes these chemicals experiences a dangerous nervous system condition, experiencing signs such as increased heart rate, tremors, or seizures. If a dog ingests an overabundance of methylxanthines, these stimulants can overwhelm their heart and other body systems, leading to death.

How are dogs exposed to chocolate?

A dog can be wily when a fragrant food is calling to them. If you leave fresh-baked brownies or chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen counter to cool, their enticing aroma can tempt your dog to reach them at all costs. Never assume your pet cannot reach a food you have left on a countertop. In addition, your canine companion can easily steal chocolates from an open cabinet or get into your child’s Halloween stash. Teach your children that people’s food can hurt their furry pal, and securely store anything containing chocolate on a high shelf, ideally in a sealed container. Also, be aware that your yard’s landscape mulch may contain cocoa hulls, and if your dog munches this, they can develop methylxanthine toxicity.

What amount of chocolate causes toxicity in dogs?

Chocolate poisoning is dose dependent, and a dog who eats one chocolate chip won’t immediately drop dead. For the amount of chocolate a dog ingests to cause toxicity, their body weight plays an important role. If a small pet eats very little chocolate, they can develop toxicity, but a large dog can consume a large quantity before experiencing toxicity signs. The chocolate type also matters because each type’s methylxanthine concentration varies greatly. White chocolate has the fewest toxins, followed by milk chocolate, dark chocolate, baker’s chocolate, and the most toxic—cocoa powder. About one ounce of milk chocolate ingested per pound of body weight can potentially lead to a fatal threshold.

What are chocolate toxicity signs in dogs?

If a dog eats enough chocolate to cause toxicity, signs can develop 6 to 12 hours afterward. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is typically the first body system to experience effects, which often include vomiting or diarrhea. The higher the methylxanthine dose, the more severe are a dog’s signs, which may include:

  • Elevated body temperature (i.e., hyperthermia)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart rate (i.e., arrhythmia)
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Increased urination

What should I do if my dog eats chocolate?

As soon as you realize your dog has eaten chocolate, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or the Pet Poison Helpline. Veterinary toxicologists and credentialed veterinary technicians who are experts in all things poison staff these 24-hour-per-day hotlines. Based on the details you provide, these professionals can calculate an approximate methylxanthine dose and determine whether your dog needs veterinary care. 

If poison control advises you to seek veterinary care or if your dog has consumed an undetermined amount of chocolate, call our Smithtown Animal Hospital team for immediate assistance. After hours, head to your nearest emergency veterinary facility. If you have already contacted a poison hotline, the poison control professionals can assist your pet’s veterinary team should they need additional guidance to address unexpected complications during treatment.

Is chocolate toxicity treatable in dogs?

Veterinarians can treat chocolate toxicity in several ways. They are likely to first induce vomiting and/or administer activated charcoal to reduce an affected pet’s toxin absorption and recirculation. They will then administer high-volume intravenous (IV) fluids to help flush the toxins from the body more quickly and support normal heart function. To combat a dog’s tremors, seizures, heart arrhythmias, nausea, and electrolyte abnormalities, the attending veterinarian may administer various appropriate medications. To reduce an affected dog’s body temperature and stop persistent seizure activity, their veterinary team may also administer sedation or anesthesia. Dogs with mild chocolate toxicity may go home the same day. However, a dog exhibiting severe toxicity signs will likely require hospitalization and intensive care for up to 72 hours. 

Will my dog recover from chocolate toxicity?

Most dogs recover from chocolate toxicity when they receive prompt and thorough treatment. A dog who ingests a large amount of chocolate has the best chance of surviving when treatment begins before they show signs. With no treatment, and even sometimes despite treatment, a dog experiencing chocolate toxicity can pass away from hyperthermia, arrhythmias, or breathing problems.

Although everyone loves chocolate, you should be careful where and how you store this tasty treat. If your dog eats chocolate, call one of the pet poison control hotlines we have discussed, then reach out to our Smithtown Animal Hospital team or your nearest emergency veterinary facility.