Chocolate is definitely not a dog-safe treat. Get the details about chocolate poisoning in dogs and what to do if your dog eats some.

By Mindy Valcarcel
August 24, 2020
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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. This treat is NOT for dogs. Can your dog eat chocolate? Not without ill effects. Chocolate poisoning in dogs has real dangers. 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, 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,” Brulag 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.”

A small amount of chocolate ingestion might produce only a bit of vomiting or diarrhea, but large ingestions can cause seizures and even death. Chocolate toxicity in dogs is serious.

Chocolates Vary in Danger

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.

Chocolates often mix in other ingredients. Brutlag warns that those ingredients, such as macadamia nuts, raisins, coffee or espresso beans, and xylitol, might also be toxic to dogs.

What Happens if Your Dog Eats Chocolate

Chocolate poisoning in dogs has clear clinical signs. If you’re unsure if your dog has gotten into chocolate, you’ll probably see obvious signs. “Spontaneously vomiting up chocolate is a pretty tell-tale sign,” Brutlag says. Other common signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Tremors
  • Elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)

Next Steps 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.