Dogs and chocolate

Most dog owners are aware that chocolate should not be given to pets. We hide our chocolate treats in high cupboards and sealed containers because we know that it can be harmful if ingested by our animals. But, what if a candy bar gets left within the dog’s reach, and you come home to find an empty wrapper? What if your dog eats a bit of chocolate that has fallen on the floor while you are baking? We know that chocolate is harmful, but we need to know the amounts to worry about, the signs to look for, and what to do for treatment in the case that our dogs and chocolate find each other.

The chemical compound that makes chocolate toxic to pets (yes, dogs and cats, even horses), is theobromine. Theobromine, found in products of the cocoa tree, is a xanthine compound belonging to the same family as caffeine and theophylline (an ingredient found in tea). Pets metabolize this chemical very slowly, and it affects their heart, central nervous system, and kidneys. Typically, although the level can vary depending on individual sensitivity, it takes one hundred to one hundred-fifty milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of a dog’s body weight (that’s 2.2 pounds) to cause a toxic reaction. Now, theobromine levels vary in different types of chocolate, because some chocolates have a higher cocoa content than others. Milk chocolate has approximately forty-four milligrams of thoebromine per ounce, semi-sweet chocolate has one hundred fifty milligrams per ounce, and baker’s chocolate has three hundred ninety milligrams per ounce. While the conversion can be tricky, especially when you are panicking because your pup just ate your daughter’s candy bar, here is a guide to follow. Roughly, a toxic dose would be: one ounce of chocolate per one pound of dog body weight for milk chocolate, one ounce of chocolate per three pounds of dog body weight for semi-sweet chocolate, and one ounce per nine pounds of dog body weight for baker’s chocolate. For example, two one-ounce squares of baker’s chocolate would cause great risk in a fifteen pound dog. However, two one-ounce milk chocolate pieces would only cause mild digestive upset. It would take two or three milk chocolate candy bars to poison a fifteen pound dog.

Early signs of theobromine poisoning in your dog may include vomiting and diarrhea, restlessness, and increased urination. If your dog is exhibiting these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. If left untreated, theobromine can cause increased heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, coma, and even death. You may even want to start treatment before the symptoms present themselves in the case that you know your dog has ingested a harmful amount of chocolate, because early treatment is best. Dogs and chocolate can be a very scary combination, so do everything you can to make sure that the two are kept apart.

There is no ‘antidote’ for chocolate poisoning in dogs. The best means of treatment includes induced vomiting, and the administration of activated charcoal. To induce vomiting, use three percent hydrogen peroxide, and administer one or two teaspoons by mouth every fifteen minutes until vomiting begins. You can also use Ipecac; administer two or three teaspoons one time only. Activated charcoal, which is usually given by the vet, is a powder of processed charcoal that binds to many types of poisons, keeping them from being absorbed into the bloodstream of the dog. There is usually a good outcome if the dog can be treated within three to five hours of ingestion, but the effects of the chocolate can last upwards of twelve hours, meaning that your pet may need to be hospitalized.

Knowing the signs of chocolate poisoning, as well as the toxic dosage amounts of each type of chocolate for your dog, can be very helpful in determining whether or not your dog needs medical treatment for the ingestion of chocolate. Though small amounts of chocolate may be safe for your dog to consume, it is best to avoid giving chocolate to your animal altogether. Dogs and chocolate, two of life’s greatest gifts, are to be carefully kept separate.