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My dog ate chocolate – what should I do?

Dachshund dog eating chocolate

You should definitely see a vet, if your dog has eaten chocolate.

© Shutterstock

Eating chocolate doesn't have to be fatal for your dog, as long as you react rapidly, efficiently, and call your veterinary clinic for advice as soon as possible.

By Dr. Katy Ellison MA VetMB MRCVS

Updated on the 12/03/2021, 13:24

Chocolate can be very toxic to dogs, and so should be avoided in all of its forms, from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar. This is because chocolate contains theobromine, which can affect the dog’s digestive, nervous and cardiovascular systems. 

The effects for the dog depend on the amount and strength of chocolate eaten, but symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea, drooling, increased thirst, excitability, tremors, seizures, kidney and heart failure. Therefore if your dog has eaten chocolate, please contact a vet immediately.

What to do if your dog has eaten chocolate

The first thing you should do is telephone your veterinary surgeon for advice. If possible, have the packaging or wrapper from the chocolate to hand, so that you can tell them the quantity that has been consumed and the type of chocolate. If you can, you should also tell your vet when the chocolate was consumed. This information will enable your veterinary surgeon to make a decision on what treatment is required. Your vet should be the only one making decisions on what treatment to give your dog - home remedies such as trying to induce vomiting yourself, are not recommended. Time is of the essence when treating any potential toxicity and, if you try treating your dog at home before seeking veterinary advice, you will lose valuable minutes.

Can a dog die from eating chocolate?

Yes, a dog can. Having said that, this is very rare, if veterinary attention is sought immediately. Whether your dog is OK after eating chocolate depends on the amount of chocolate that they have eaten and the type of chocolate. The length of time between ingestion of the chocolate and seeking veterinary advice and treatment is a critical factor in determining whether your dog will be OK. The sooner you contact your veterinary surgeon, the better. They may well need to make your dog vomit and this needs to be done within two hours to be of benefit.

How much chocolate is toxic to dogs?

The toxic level of theobromine is 20mg per kg bodyweight. This equates to 14g milk chocolate per kg bodyweight or 3.5g dark chocolate (if it's 30 to 50% cocoa) per kg bodyweight. If your dog has eaten this amount or more, please get hold of a vet immediately. It is important to note that a lot of chocolate available these days is stronger than "traditional" dark chocolate, so a dog can eat much less of 90% dark chocolate than it can 60% dark chocolate, before being affected by it.

How long does it take for a dog to get sick after eating chocolate? 

It takes approximately 10 hours for theobromine, the toxic constituent of chocolate, to be fully absorbed from the gut. Signs of chocolate toxicity usually develop within four hours of ingestion of the chocolate but can take up to 24 hours in some cases. The signs can last for up to three days.

What are the symptoms of a dog who ate chocolate?

The symptoms vary with the amount and strength eaten. Clinical signs include vomiting and diarrhoea, but this can progress to increased thirst, excitability, tremors, kidney and heart failure, and seizures. Therefore it can be fatal, if left untreated. Fortunately, this is rare if veterinary treatment is sought out promptly.

My dog ate chocolate but seems fine

Because of the delay of four to 12 hours before signs of chocolate toxicity develop, almost all dogs will initially appear fine. This does not mean that your dog will be OK, so always consult a veterinary surgeon. They may tell you that your dog has not eaten enough chocolate to cause any problems and that no treatment is required, or they may advise that you attend the veterinary surgery immediately for treatment, including giving your dog an injection to make it vomit. This may sound unpleasant but if done within two hours of your dog eating chocolate, it will be very effective. 

My dog ate chocolate 24 hours ago

If your dog ate chocolate 24 hours ago and seems fine then the chances are you have been lucky and your dog has not eaten a toxic dose of chocolate. If your dog does not appear OK then you must seek urgent veterinary care. It will be too late to make your dog vomit because the chocolate will have left his stomach by now. In this instance supportive care such as intravenous fluids and sometimes sedatives will be administered. Repeated doses of activated charcoal will be given orally because this helps speed up the elimination of theobromine (the toxic component of chocolate). The most common signs of chocolate toxicity are vomiting and diarrhoea. In more serious cases, there may be heart or nervous system signs including a rapid heart rate, muscle twitching, tremors and seizures – in extreme cases.

How long does it take for chocolate to get out of a dog’s system?

It can take up to three days for chocolate to get out of a dog’s system, but if your dog is not showing any signs of chocolate toxicity after 24 hours then it is unlikely that any will develop.

Are all dogs at risk of chocolate poisoning?

A large dog would be able to eat more chocolate without suffering from any adverse effects, on the contrary to a small dog. However, as a general rule, dogs should never be fed chocolate.

Why is chocolate bad for dogs?

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs because it contains something called theobromine (a stimulant a bit like caffeine) that is toxic to the heart and central nervous system. Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine, ranging from white chocolate with very low levels to high-quality dark chocolate and cocoa powder with very high levels of theobromine. So if your dog has eaten white chocolate, he will almost certainly be OK with no treatment, but if he has eaten dark chocolate this could be very serious and urgent treatment is necessary.

Is chocolate powder dangerous for dogs?

Yes, because it contains theobromine, often at higher concentrations, so will have the same effects as chocolate. Again, the symptoms seen will depend on the amount and strength of the chocolate powder eaten. If your dog has eaten chocolate powder, please contact a vet immediately.

Can dogs eat chocolate cake?

Chocolate cake usually contains cocoa powder. Cocoa powder has very high levels of theobromine (the toxic component of chocolate) and as little as a few grams of cocoa powder can cause severe signs of chocolate toxicity. If your dog has eaten chocolate cake, seek veterinary advice immediately.

Is it dangerous if my dog drank hot chocolate?

Yes, because it will still contain theobromine, so can still have the same effects as chocolate itself. Again, the symptoms seen will depend on the amount and strength of the chocolate powder eaten. In addition, the milk in hot chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in some dogs. If your dog has drunk hot chocolate, please contact a vet as soon as possible.

My dog ate a chocolate chip cookie

Most dogs that eat a chocolate chip cookie will be OK, because there is unlikely to be a great deal of chocolate in one cookie.  However, if your dog is small and the cookie is large or contains a lot of chocolate (especially if it is dark) then treatment may be necessary. It is always better to be safe than sorry, so check with a veterinary surgeon.