Toxic Chocolate: What to Do if Your Dog Gets into the Sweet Stuff
Chocolate, a much-desired human treat is found in abundance in homes, especially around Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and many holidays. But dogs and chocolate are a bad combination. Can your dog eat chocolate? The answer is no—this treat is NOT for dogs and can actually poison them. Here’s what happens if your dog eats chocolate and what you should do if—oops!—your dog got into that bit of chocolate you left out.
Why Chocolate Is Bad for Dogs
Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, and director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline, explains why chocolate is bad for dogs—and a connection to coffee. “Chocolate contains chemicals called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine,” Brutlag says. “These chemicals are stimulants that can lead to cardiovascular and neurological stimulation in dogs. It’s very similar to a person taking too much caffeine.”
Some Types of Chocolate Are More Dangerous Than Others
Chocolate comes in many forms, and the degree of dangerous methylxanthines varies. “The darker and less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it can be to dogs because it contains more theobromine and caffeine,” Brutlag says. “Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the greatest risk for poisoning, while white chocolate carries the lowest risk.” The degree of ill effects also varies according to how much chocolate a dog consumes and the dog’s size.
According to Banfield Pet Hospital, the most dangerous types of chocolate for dogs in order from most harmful to least harmful include:
- Cocoa powder
- Baker's chocolate
- Semisweet chocolate
- Dark chocolate
- Instant cocoa powder mix
- Milk chocolate
- White chocolate
Signs and Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
Chocolate poisoning in dogs has clear clinical signs. If you’re unsure if your dog has gotten into chocolate, you’ll probably see obvious symptoms. “Spontaneously vomiting up chocolate is a pretty tell-tale sign,” Brutlag says. Other common signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs include:
- Increased thirst
- Elevated heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate
“I strongly recommend contacting Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian immediately,” Brutlag says. “Doing so will allow these veterinary professionals to determine if the dog ingested a toxic dose of chocolate and, depending on how long it’s been since ingestion and the dose ingested, may be able to offer suggestions for at-home care.”
An at-home care option for chocolate poisoning in dogs might be to induce vomiting. “A note of caution—if you induce vomiting at home, make sure to remove the dog from the vomit or immediately pick it up. I’ve had many dogs ingest their own vomit and be back at the same point in which they started!” Brutlag says.
No matter what, contact your vet as quickly as possible after your dog eats chocolate. The length of time since the incident and other factors that could make inducing vomiting dangerous may require an immediate visit to the vet.
Of course, the best plan is to avoid chocolate poisoning in your dog. Keep all forms of chocolate away from your furry best friend’s curious nose and mouth. But accidents happen. If your dog eats chocolate, call your vet.