Chocolate poisoning in dogs is not uncommon. Yet not every dog will be poisoned by eating chocolate. This often leads to confusion.
I’m going to explain why some dogs suffer ill effects from eating chocolate while others do not, and why I never give chocolate to my own dogs, under any circumstances.
Why Can’t Dogs Have Chocolate?
For every person I know that would never dream of giving chocolate to their dog, I know at least one other person who thinks that chocolate does not do their dog any harm.
The truth is that chocolate is toxic to dogs. But whether or not a dog is harmed by eating chocolate depends on several different risk factors that all act together.
To protect your dog, you need to understand those risk factors.
Help! My Dog Ate Chocolate!
If your dog has eaten some dark chocolate or baker’s chocolate, then contact your veterinarian now, and ask for advice.
These kinds of chocolate are high in cocoa solids and even very small amounts can be dangerous. You need to act quickly to prevent the toxins in chocolate entering your pet’s bloodstream
If you can’t get hold of your veterinary professional contact the Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661
This is a 24 hour animal poison control service available throughout US, Canada and the Carribean. In the UK you need the Animal Poison Helpline 01202 509000
If your dog has eaten a small amount of milk chocolate, such as a couple of squares of chocolate or a milk chocolate biscuit, then the risk is lower.
Risk Factors For Chocolate Poisoning In Dogs
There are a number of risk factors that will determine whether or not your dog is likely to be made sick by eating chocolate.
- Size of the dog
- Age of the dog
- Health of the dog
- Quantity of chocolate eaten
- Type of chocolate eaten
A healthy, sixty-pound, five year old Labrador is unlikely to become sick from eating a small square of milk chocolate.
On the other hand a ten pound puppy, or a very old or sick dog, might well show signs of poisoning after consuming quite small quantities.
Why Does Chocolate Harm Dogs?
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine.
Theobromine doesn’t normally harm people because we digest and excrete it really fast, within 2-3 hours, half the theobromine you ate will be removed from your body
Dogs can’t do this, they take 18 hours or so to excrete half the theobromine in their system. This poor ability to process theobromine puts them at risk.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
To avoid your dog suffering from chocolate intoxication, it’s important to keep chocolate well out of the dog’s reach, especially baking chocolate or dark chocolate. And to clean up any spills quickly and carefully.
Make sure visitors to your home are aware of the rules around dogs and chocolate. High risk times for poisoning are Christmas and Easter when in the general chaos of family celebrations, it’s easy for mistakes to be made.
Bear in mind too, that cocoa shell mulches that you can purchase from your garden center or supplier, can also have very high levels of theobromine and be poisonous to dogs.
The Symptoms Of Chocolate Poisoning In Dogs
Symptoms range from typical digestive upset including stomach ache, diarrhea and vomiting, all the way up to heart problems and seizures.
It can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear and up to 3 days for dogs to recover.
The effects of chocolate poisoning can be fatal in dogs, and at the least can make them very ill, and give you a large veterinary bill to pay.
What are the chances of my dog getting sick?
A study looked at 156 cases where dogs had ingested chocolate, 44 of those dogs had clinical symptoms of poisoning. In other words, a quarter of the dogs got sick. And one of them (3%) died. These were all dogs that received veterinary attention.
The risk of death is generally considered to be low if treatment is not delayed, but the risk of unpleasant illness for your dog, and a lot of worry and expense for you, is significant.
Without treatment, the risk of death may be as much as 50%
Food For Thought
Having looked at the risks, if you have a large dog you may still be tempted to give them the occasional square of chocolate, or a chocolate biscuit.
But here’s the thing.
Why take this risk? Why make this decision on behalf of your dog? After all, they don’t know that chocolate is harmful. And they are relying on you to keep them safe and make good decisions on their behalf.
Your dog might not have had any obvious symptoms after eating half a chocolate brownie for example, but dogs are actually very good at hiding pain and discomfort. For all you know they could have had horrible tummy ache for hours afterwards.
While most dogs do make a full recovery from symptomatic chocolate poisoning my view is why put them through that? And that’s why I simply don’t give my dogs chocolate at all.
And why I really do recommend that you do the right thing by your dog, and keep chocolate well out of their reach.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website