Chocolate is a well known poison for dogs, and like any good dog owner, you probably do everything you can to keep your pup from eating any. But accidents can happen and it is not impossible that your dog will gulp down a few pieces of chocolate before you realize what’s happening.
The good news is that a little bit of chocolate, especially milk chocolate, will likely be harmless. More than that, however, can lead to illness and death. By understanding the dangers and effects of chocolate toxicity on dogs, you can be sure that you are taking the right steps to keep your pet safe after he ingests chocolate.
Cocoa beans, the plant which forms the basis of chocolate, contains theobromine. A chemical cousin to caffeine, theobromine is very toxic for dogs. Just 10 mg for every pound of body weight can trigger symptoms. Increasing that amount to 40 mg or more can lead to rapid heart rate, seizures, and collapse.
How much theobromine in an individual piece of chocolate depends on the type. In general, dark chocolates and bakers’ chocolate contain more since there is a higher concentration of cocoa compounds in them. Sweeter milk chocolates and many chocolate candies, like M&Ms, have a lower cocoa content and are therefore somewhat safer.
The risks of common chocolates are, in order of descending risk:
After your dog has eaten chocolate, it can be helpful if you can find out what kind of chocolate it was. A small amount of baking chocolate can be as dangerous as a large amount of milk chocolate.
General guidelines for the different safe amounts of each chocolate are based on ounces of chocolate per pound of body weight. For milk chocolate, anything over 0.5 ounces is dangerous. For dark or semi-sweet, more than 0.1 ounces can cause symptoms. Any ingestion of unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder needs medical attention. For reference, a regular size Hershey’s milk chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces and about 50 chocolate chips are 1 ounce.
With older, younger, smaller, or already ill dogs, a smaller amount of chocolate can yield more extreme symptoms.
If a dog is going to experience chocolate toxicity, the symptoms will usually begin between 6 and 12 hours after ingestion and last up to 3 days. For small amounts, vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. Larger amounts of chocolate can lead to increased urination, agitation, rapid and abnormal heart rate, tremors, seizures, and, in extreme cases, death.
Any time your dog gets ahold of chocolate, you will want to call a vet as soon as possible. Even if you are certain your dog only ate a few pieces, it is better to be safe than sorry. After confirming what kind of chocolate and how much, your vet can make recommendations for monitoring your dog, bringing him in for treatment, or whatever else is necessary to keep your dog safe.