Pet Toxins

My Dog Ate Chocolate – What Do I Do?

dog ate chocolate

So your dog ate chocolate – now what do you do? You’ve come home to find Valentine’s Day or Halloween candy wrappers scattered everywhere, or your dog counter-surfed and grabbed a cup of cocoa powder meant for a batch of brownies. 

I’m here to break it all down for you. I’ll explain why chocolate is bad for dogs and what you can do when your pup takes a bite of some of that chocolate yumminess.

What is in chocolate that makes it toxic to dogs?

Chocolate contains methylxanthines, which are naturally occurring stimulants made up of the alkaloids theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine is found in cacao beans, grown from small evergreen trees (Theobroma cacao) that are native to Central and South America.

The amount of theobromine in cacao beans varies naturally with growing conditions and the varietal strain of T. cacao

Caffeine and theobromine have similar effects on the body, such as stimulating the cardiovascular and neurologic systems, along with restlessness and faster-than-normal breathing. However, the effects of theobromine last much longer than the caffeine’s. The final methylxanthine content (caffeine plus theobromine) of cacao-derived products varies with the degree of processing that occurs.

The main point is this right here: the more chocolate there is in a product (i.e. the darker the chocolate), the more theobromine there is. And the more theobromine there is in a treat, the more dangerous it can be for your dog.

my dog ate chocolate

And the last thing your pup needs is to be sick, right?

Chocolate ingestion can be a serious medical emergency, which means once you’ve realized what has happened, you need to act fast.

The Merck Veterinary Manual shows the approximate levels of theobromine in different types of chocolate, as follows:

Type of chocolate

Theobromine amounts

Pure cocoa powder

800 mg/oz

Unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate

450 mg/oz

Cocoa bean mulch

255 mg/oz

Semisweet/dark chocolate

150-160 mg/oz

Milk chocolate

44-64 mg/oz

White chocolate

negligible

As you can see from the above chart, baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain higher amounts of theobromine and white chocolate contains such a small amount that it is negligible. Milk chocolate is commonly found in many store-bought or homemade treats, so it usually depends on the weight of the dog and how much chocolate is ingested whether or not your pup will become ill.

Signs of chocolate poisoning typically appear in 2-12 hours. In dogs, initial symptoms of chocolate ingestion include:

  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Bloating
  • Drinking lots of water

With larger ingestions of chocolate, you might see:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased body temperature
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Collapse and death

Pancreatitis, infection or inflammation of the pancreas, can occur after your dog ingests chocolate, particularly a large amount. The most common symptoms you might observe are vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

dog ate chocolate

What should you do if your dog ate chocolate?

The first thing to do if you find that your pup got into your chocolate stash is to check out how much was ingested and specifically what was eaten. 

  • Grab a pen and a piece of paper (or your phone) and write down how much was eaten or how much chocolate is missing. Six Hershey kisses? A slice of chocolate cake? One-half cup of cocoa powder? Jot it down and keep this info handy.
  • Remove any more chocolate from the area. You don’t want your dog grabbing another piece of something while you are trying to record info for the vet.
  • Call your Veterinarian’s office. Be prepared to tell them your pet’s weight, what type of chocolate was ingested, and also an approximate time or window that the chocolate was consumed.
  • If your Vet is closed, you can call either a pet urgent care, pet ER, or Animal Poison Control. I have linked two websites for poison control below.

ASPCA Pet Poison Control

Pet Poison Hotline

Another option for contacting a Veterinarian, especially after hours, is using a telehealth company. Some offer chat and video consultations with a veterinary professional 24/7.

Depending on the amount ingested, you will likely need to head to the vet. Grab any chocolate packaging, your pup, leash, and of course, your wallet or purse, and drive directly to the clinic. The sooner your pet can be seen and possibly made to vomit, the better.

What to expect during the Vet visit after your dog eats chocolate

Once you are at your vet’s office and they have collected as much information as possible from you, they’ll take your dog to the treatment area and give him medication to make him throw up. It’s best to empty his stomach quickly so that he absorbs as little theobromine as possible. 

A close inspection of the vomit contents is made by the veterinary staff, and your pup may get further treatment to settle his upset stomach. This may include activated charcoal, which helps prevent the toxin from being absorbed from the stomach into the body, and an anti-nausea injection to keep your pet from vomiting at least for the next 24 hours.

Discharge instructions usually look something like this:

  1. Only offer water for 12 hours and skip the next meal
  2. Closely monitor your pet for abnormal signs like lethargy, (more) vomiting, or diarrhea
  3. Recheck with the vet if you notice the above symptoms

For larger ingestions, Rover may be admitted to the hospital and put on intravenous fluids. Depending on the amount ingested, the prognosis for recovery is pretty good. For larger ingestions, your pet may be in a critical state and need many interventions by the veterinary staff. 

With any luck, your pet will be ok, and you can breathe a sigh of relief! I hope that I have explained everything you need to know when your dog eats chocolate.

But wait, there’s more….

Why Can WE eat chocolate, but dogs can’t?

It basically has to do with how humans metabolize methylxanthines.

Humans can break down and excrete theobromine much more efficiently than dogs. 

There is never ANY circumstance to give a dog chocolate. It can be deadly.

How to keep your dog from eating from chocolate

There is an old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We all know that accidents happen, but following the tips below will limit access to chocolate for your doggy.

  1. Up, up and away! – Put any chocolate candy up on the highest shelf in the pantry, on top of the refrigerator or another shelf in your house or apartment that cannot be reached by a four-legged friend
  2. Crates Abound – When mixing or baking with chocolate, consider leaving your dog in a small room or their crate (if they are crate-trained) while mixing and cooking. Once your chocolate dessert is done, do not leave it on the counter. If possible, putting the sweet torte on a high shelf should prevent your dog from helping himself.
  3. Educate household members – Ensure everyone in the household understands the dangers of chocolate for dogs and the importance of keeping it away from them.

Remember, any type of chocolate ingestion could become serious. Always check with a veterinary professional if your dog eats chocolate so they can get you the best help possible.

For the love of pets, 

Dr. Gina

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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