You’re probably here reading “My Dog Ate Chocolate” because you’re worried. But if your adult Lab just ate a small square of milk chocolate, or a cupcake with some chocolate icing, there is no need to panic. Likewise, if your dog ate chocolate chip cookies, the chances are this is not a medical emergency.
But if your dog is small, or ate much more chocolate than that, you should take action. Don’t just ignore the fact that your dog scoffed a load of Hershey bars. There is a possibility that he or she could need medical attention within the next hour or so.
And before you go any further, if your dog just ate dark chocolate, call your vet’s office right now and let them know. They will want to know roughly how much your dog weighs and exactly what he just ate.
Whether or not a dog will have a reaction from eating chocolate depends on three things. First, what type of chocolate the dog ate, how much of it he ate and finally, how big the dog is.
Before we get down to facts, let’s make it clear that this information is provided for your interest only. You should always contact your vet for advice if your dog has eaten anything you know or believe to be poisonous to dogs. And that includes chocolate.
Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs
Chocolate is certainly not GOOD for dogs. It has nothing in it that dogs need and quite a few things that dogs don’t need. But is chocolate bad for dogs? Or are the risks exaggerated?
Sadly, according to a study on household food items toxic to dogs and cats, published in 2016, they are not. “The presence of chocolate was noted in the 10 most common cases of toxicosis involving dogs reported to the VPIS and to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Animal Poisons Control Center (APCC) in the past few years,” the study says.
In fact, vets have long known that chocolate is poisonous. They see many cases of chocolate toxicosis in dogs. Especially during the holiday season when people are more likely to leave chocolate products lying around.
So, the answer is that in sufficient quantities, chocolate and dogs don’t mix well at all. In fact, chocolate can be very bad for dogs. Let’s find out why that is.
Why Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine. Just as water has a chemical code—H2O— theobromine has its own code too. For those of you into such things, it’s called C7H8N4O2.
There are other things in chocolate besides theobromine of course, such as sugar, for instance. And in many types of chocolate, milk is a key component. But it is this chemical called theobromine that causes the trouble.
Theobromine is a vasodilator. That means it widens your blood vessels. You might think that’s a good thing—improving blood flow—and in some cases, it can be. In the past, for example, theobromine has been used to treat high blood pressure.
But theobromine is also a diuretic (makes you pee more) and a heart stimulant. Unfortunately, in large enough quantities, it is also harmful to almost any animal that consumes it.
The chances of getting theobromine poisoning or chocolate toxicosis depend partly on how quickly the theobromine is broken down by the body. And that is where the problem lies for our dogs.
Why Can’t Dogs Eat Chocolate?
Most humans suffer no ill effects from eating chocolate. Most, but not all. Chocolate toxicity does occasionally occur in people who consume large enough quantities.
But chocolate poisoning in dogs is far more common.
The reason is that theobromine is broken down far more slowly by the canine body.
What Does Chocolate Do to Dogs – Compared with People?
If a human eats anything with theobromine (coffee also contains this chemical) the quantity of theobromine ingested will be halved within 6 to 10 hours.
So, for the most part, people can consume chocolate without severe side effects.
If your dog ate chocolate today, however, it would take around 18 hours for theobromine levels to be halved.
Because the dog metabolizes theobromine so slowly, the higher levels in the dog’s body can do more harm. Let’s take a closer look at what happens if a dog eats chocolate.
What Happens If a Dog Eats Chocolate?
The theobromine in chocolate interferes with a dog’s heartbeat. This can cause potentially fatal disruptions or irregularities to his heart rate. It also stimulates the dog’s nervous system. And that results in the symptoms seen in dogs who’ve eaten a dangerous amount of chocolate
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
Early symptoms may vary from dog to dog. But most dogs will experience increased thirst (remember that theobromine is a diuretic) and restlessness.
The dog may also vomit or suffer from diarrhea. After that, if a sufficient quantity of theobromine has been consumed, things may get much worse.
If a dog ate a lot of chocolate, he may lose control of his legs and collapse. He may also have a have a seizure, and if untreated may fall into a coma. Fatalities can and do occur.
So what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to your dog?
What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate
The first thing to do is decide whether there is any risk at all of chocolate toxicosis.
According to the MDS Vet Manual, a dose of 20mg/kg of body weight is the point at which there is a potential for clinical signs of illness. I’ll explain how you can find out what this means for your dog in a moment.
If your dog is at risk, then contact your vet to let him know what has happened. Be ready to make arrangements to take your dog in for treatment quickly if that is what your vet advises.
Ultimately, everything will depend on the weight of the dog and the type of chocolate he ate. Let’s take quantity first.
How Much Chocolate Can a Dog Eat?
How much chocolate a dog can eat safely? It depends partly on how much that dog weighs.
For example, if a 60 lb Labrador ate 6 oz of milk chocolate, the risk of illness is low.
With smaller dogs, this is a serious business. The same quantity might well kill a dog weighing 15 lbs or less. Don’t let anyone give chocolate of any kind to small breed dogs or Labrador puppies.
Many people, however, get away with feeding milk chocolate or milk chocolate products, in small to moderate quantities to big dogs. You probably know someone who regularly does this. It doesn’t mean that they should, or that the dog doesn’t feel unwell afterward. But they are unlikely to end up at the vet’s office.
The same is most definitely NOT true of dark chocolate. This is the scary part.
How Much Chocolate Can a Dog Eat Without Dying?
Looking again at our example above. Let’s take the same 60 lb Labrador. And the same 6 oz quantity chocolate, but this time of dark chocolate
Now you’re looking at a very different scenario.
The consumption of more than a couple of ounces of dark chocolate by an adult Lab should always be considered to be a medical emergency. Severe illness (and possibly death) is one potential outcome.
But why is dark chocolate so bad? Well, the darker your chocolate, the higher the theobromine levels! So, dark chocolate is naturally the most dangerous for dogs. Milk chocolate could also be harmful, but usually in greater quantities than would be needed for dark chocolate.
But if dark chocolate is really bad, what about white chocolate? Is that okay?
Can Dogs Have White Chocolate?
You may have heard that dogs can eat white chocolate without coming to any harm. And there is some truth in that rumor.
White chocolate contains less theobromine than milk chocolate. And a dog needs to consume even more of it to become sick.
However, it does still contain theobromine, and it isn’t entirely safe. Especially for smaller dogs and puppies.
My Dog Ate Chocolate. How Long Until Symptoms?
If your dog ate chocolate in a large enough quantity to harm himself, symptoms will likely appear within 12 hours. Possibly much sooner.
However, a dog that is perfectly well 24 hours after consuming some milk chocolate, is unlikely to suffer any serious consequences later.
So far, we have looked at why chocolate is bad for dogs. We’ve also seen the roles body weight and the type of chocolate consumed play in the risks of eating chocolate for dogs.
Let’s sum up what you need to do if you came here after typing “my dog ate chocolate what do I do” into Google!
My Dog Ate Chocolate – What Do I Do Right Now?
You’ll need to head over to a dog chocolate calculator. The one we recommend is in pounds and ounces. Write down how much your dog weighs in lbs. Weigh him if you have no idea. Then, write down approximately how much chocolate your dog has eaten in ounces.
Go to the dog chocolate calculator on the Vet Manual website. Enter the color of the chocolate your dog consumed, his body weight in lbs and the weight of the chocolate in ounces. The calculator will tell you whether or not your dog is at risk.
- Contact your vet unless the calculator says you are safe
- Contact your vet anyway if your dog is very young or not in good health
- Contact your vet anyway if your dog displays any concerning symptoms
What Can the Vet Do If My Dog Ate Chocolate?
You may wonder: But what can the vet do if my dog ate chocolate already? Good question.
To treat chocolate poisoning, vets will usually try to cause your dog to vomit (if he hasn’t already). They’ll also give activated charcoal. This helps prevent the poison from getting absorbed into the dog’s stomach.
Vets will then give fluids to counteract all the peeing caused by theobromine, and to avoid dehydration. Depending on how sick your dog has gotten, they may either treat the seizures or manage the diarrhea.
It’s normal to be worried about your furry family member, but try to stay as calm as possible. If caught early enough, most dogs can recover from chocolate toxicity.
Can I Prevent My Dog From Eating Chocolate?
While we all wish we could always keep an eye on our dogs, it’s not that easy. Still there may be a few things you can do. First, and perhaps the simplest is to keep chocolate away from your dog. Place your “strictly human treats” out of your dog’s reach.
If you’ve got a dog who always seems to find his way around everything (like mine), you might need more. You could try keeping him in a crate.
Crates are a great way to keep dogs safe when you can’t watch them. Just remember not to leave them in there too long. Experts recommend 4 hours for dogs older than 6 months and 2 hours for pups.
Finally, teaching dogs a strong “leave it” command can be very helpful. My friend uses that when her dog tries to eat food that falls off the table. So if your dog does happen upon some chocolate and you’ve got your eyes on them, this might work.
This video has some great tips for teaching a dog to “leave it.” Hopefully, it saves you from a “My dog ate chocolate” Google search.
My Dog Ate Chocolate – What Do I Do – Summary
It isn’t a myth. Chocolate is indeed poisonous to dogs. Most poisonings are not fatal, but some are. So if your dog ate chocolate, you need to take it seriously.
The risk is high if your dog is small, or if the chocolate he ate is dark. Don’t take chances.
Be safe and contact your vet.
And when Christmas or the holiday celebrations involve chocolate, spare a thought for your dog and keep those goodies stored safely out of reach. You can also keep your dog in a crate for a couple of hours if you’re going to be out. And a good “leave it” training won’t hurt either.
Further Information, References and Resources
You’ll find a full list of references and some of the publications referred to in this article below.
Remember that bars of chocolate are not the only source of theobromine. It is also found in garden mulches made from cocoa plant products. But the most dangerous quantities are in cooking chocolate and cocoa powder.
If you own a dog—especially a small dog—then these products should be safely and securely stored. Just like you would keep any other dangerous chemical out of reach of small children and dogs.
A helpful site for any kind of pet poisoning worry is the Pet Poisons Helpline
Want to find out more about keeping your Labrador healthy?
Then check out The Labrador Handbook. A complete guide for Labrador owners.
“My Dog Ate Chocolate – What Do I Do? Will He Be Okay?” has been extensively revised for 2019.
Here are the rest of those references:
- Gwaltney-Brant, S DVM. “MSD Veterinary Manual: Chocolate (etiology, pathogenesis etc)”
- Toxnet: Toxicology Data Network 3, 7 – Dimethylxanthine.
- Conrtinovis C, Caloni F “Household Food Items Toxic to Dogs and Cats” Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2016
- Meadows I, Gwaltney-Brant S. The 10 most common toxicoses in dogs. Vet Med (2006)
- Finlay F, Guitton P. Chocolate Poisoning BMJ 2005
- Kovalkovicova N et al. “Some food toxic for pets” Interdiscip Toxicol 2009
- Eteng MU et al. Recent advances in caffeine and theobromine toxicities: a review. Plant Foods For Human Nutrition 1997
- Strachan TR, Bennet A “Theobromine poisoning in dogs.” Vet Res 1994
- Soffietti MG, et al. “Effects of theobromine in mature and immature rabbits”. J Comp Pathol 1989
- Drolent R, Arendt TD, Stowe CM. “Cacao bean shell poisoning in a dog” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
- Clough GW “
Theobromine poisoning in the dog.” Veterinary Journal 1942
- WebMD. Flowers, A., DVM. “Dogs and Chocolate Poisoning: A Toxic Combination”