Chocolate Toxicity

Easter is fast approaching (it’s practically in March this year!) which means plenty of chocolate. Chocolate bunnies, chocolate Easter eggs, it’s everywhere this time of year! As most people know chocolate is toxic to dogs. The dangers of chocolate are twofold: it can be high in fat which can lead to various digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. More worrisome is that chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, ingredients that don’t pose much of a risk to us humans but are toxic to dogs and cats.

To complicate things, there are many different types of chocolate out there. A rule of thumb is that the darker and more bitter chocolate, the more toxic it is. Baking chocolate has the highest concentration of theobromine and therefore has the highest degree of toxicity, followed by semi-sweet and dark chocolate, then milk chocolate and finally products containing chocolate flavouring such as milk and cookies. White chocolate has negligible amounts of theobromine but still has the potential to upset your dog’s stomach if eaten in large quantities.

Signs of chocolate toxicity vary depending on the amount consumed and typically occur within 6-12 hours of ingestion. Twenty milligrams per kilogram of theobromine will cause mild symptoms whereas 40 mg/kg and above results in more severe symptoms. Typical signs include vomiting and diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors and possibly seizures. Dogs will often get an elevated heart rate which may progress to an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). Severe cases can even result in death.

So, what should you do if your pet gets into your chocolate Easter bunny? First off give your vet a call! We will need to know some information like your dog’s current weight, the type of chocolate consumed, the amount consumed and how long ago you think they ate it. Based on this information we can determine how serious the situation is and if your dog needs to be seen or not. A good site to check out is the Chocolate Toxicity Calculator. However, this is NOT meant to replace proper veterinary advice.

Most likely we will ask you to bring your dog in to be seen. To start off with we will try to induce vomiting, especially if ingestion was recent. Some people will try to induce vomiting at home, however, in most situations, this is not advised. Many home remedies are irritating to the stomach; there is the risk of aspirating when vomiting and vomiting is not always predictable with these products. When you bring your pet in we are also able to administer other medication such as activated charcoal to help neutralize and reduce absorption in the intestines. In severe cases, IV fluids and anti-arrhythmic may be indicated.

A side note about cats. Cats are even more sensitive to chocolate then dogs, so why do we keep going on about dogs? Well, cats aren’t attracted to the natural sweetness of chocolate (whereas dogs, just like us, seem to love it!), so they will just not eat it. If your cat does fancy a chocolate treat though the same advice applies to them as it does to dogs.

Written by Dr. David Baker, DVM