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Can dogs eat chocolate?

Owner giving treat to labrador dog advice
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It isn’t just the chemicals in chocolate that cause poisonous of dogs. The fat and sugar content, and whatever the chocolate is wrapped in can pose serious hazards. Find out why chocolate is bad for dogs.

By Nick Whittle

Updated on the 21/11/2019, 17:09

The idea that chocolate is poisonous to dogs has been passed down through the generations. It’s a widely-known fact but, like knowing cigarette smoke is poisonous to us, it is a fact we often choose to ignore.

Fatal attraction

Dogs are regularly treated for toxicosis after eating chocolate, especially at times of the year when we ourselves over-indulge. In the worst cases dogs die because they have eaten too much chocolate, and their cause of death is not just poisoning: some dogs choke on chocolate wrappers and some have wrappers lodged in their tummies, while for others eating chocolate tips a pre-existing illness over the edge.

Owners must take care to ensure that human chocolate is not within their dog’s reach, and they must be mindful of the fact that to feed even the smallest amount of chocolate to their dog causes the animal a great deal of distress.

There are plenty of chocolate-flavoured treats on the market designed specifically for dogs.

Why is chocolate bad for dogs?

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao plant. Ancient Mexican tribes were well aware of the psychotic and physiological effects the chemicals within the seed caused. These phytochemicals are what are responsible for the good feeling chocolate gives us.

However, they don’t have the same effect on a dog.

Chocolate contains chemicals called methylated xanthines, the most active of which is theobromine: a chemical which acts a bit like caffeine. It is the effect of theobromine on the dog’s body which gives vets most cause for concern. Too much of it can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea, excitability, tremors and fitting.

It isn’t just the theobromine that makes chocolate bad for dogs. The fat and sugar content of chocolate give your dog’s health a serious beating and cause all manner of diseases such as pancreatitis, tooth decay and obesity.

How much is too much?

The safest answer to this is: none at all! But if you are intent on feeding your dog chocolate you need to mindful of your dog’s age, size and state of health. And...

You must never give chocolate to a puppy!

A small dog needs to eat only a small amount of milk chocolate to get sick. If she is already poorly or especially old, her health will suffer even more. Approximately 450 grams of milk chocolate is fatal to a 9 kilogram dog. The average milk chocolate bar contains about 65 - 85 grams of chocolate. That means that she would only need to find and eat about five chocolate bars

Dog toxicity with different types of chocolate

We make cocoa seeds into lots of different types of chocolate and the way we process the chocolate leads to different chocolates containing different levels of theobromine. Take a look at this list; it shows how many milligrams of theobromine are in each gram of various types of chocolate:

  • White chocolate: 0.03 mg / gram
  • Hot chocolate: 0.4 mg / gram
  • Milk chocolate: 2.1 mg / gram
  • Dark chocolate: 8.3 mg / gram
  • Semi-sweet chocolate: 9.2 mg / gram
  • Baking chocolate: 16 mg / gram


Symptoms of chocolate poisoning

The symptoms of a toxic dose of theobromine, such as agitation, drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea are reported in dogs that have eaten the equivalent of just 20 mg of theobromine per kilo of body weight (e.g. just under one gram of baking chocolate per kilo of body weight).

At doses over 40 mg theobromine per kilo your dog experiences excessive panting, tachycardia, high blood pressure and arrhythmia. At doses of more than 60 mg/kg, neurological symptoms are observed such as tremors and seizures.

What should you do if your dog eats too much chocolate?

Dogs that eat a small amount of chocolate very infrequently should be able to deal with the methylated xanthines. But dogs that have either been fed a lot of chocolate or have for instance managed to eat a whole cake should be treated by a vet.

Under the care of a vet your dog will be induced to vomit and administered with activated charcoal to absorb any toxins in the gut.

For more severe cases, medications or IV fluids may be administered to counteract the effects of the poisoning.

In order to prevent an accidental poisoning don’t leave chocolate where it can be found, and if you are intent on feeding your dog human chocolate pay attention to the guided amounts.

Remember, your dog is not just exposed to the toxins of the chocolate but is also prone to put on weight and suffer from all the nasty diseases that are associated with ingesting too much sugar and fat. If in doubt, it is always best to stick to chocolate flavoured treats that don’t harm your dog.

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