Is chocolate bad for dogs?

Chocolate is bad for dogs and too much can be toxic or even deadly, but how much is too much, what are the sign and symptoms of chocolate poisoning and would you know what to do if your dog ate it?

Is chocolate toxic to dogs?

Yes, chocolate can make your dog ill. The amount of chocolate that is poisonous to a dog depends on the type of chocolate that they’ve eaten, how much they ate and the size of the dog. Although chocolate poisoning can be serious, the number of dogs that die each year from eating it is small. Some dogs find the smell and taste of chocolate irresistible (do you blame them?), so it’s up to us to keep it out of paws reach at all times.

Why is chocolate poisonous to dogs?

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a chemical that is similar to caffeine. Dogs are particularly sensitive to theobromine and it can be poisonous to them in large enough amounts. Theobromine can make dogs unwell in a number of different ways, but its main effect is to cause an overstimulation of their muscles, including their heart.

How much chocolate is dangerous?

It’s difficult to say how much chocolate is toxic to an individual dog because it depends on two main factors:
  1. How big your dog is (typically, bigger dogs can tolerate more chocolate than smaller dogs)
  2. How much theobromine they’ve eaten

Darker and more expensive chocolates usually have more theobromine and are more likely to be harmful to dogs.
Theobromine content vs types of chocolate
  • Plain or dark chocolate tends to be rich in theobromine and is likely to be more toxic than most other types of chocolate
  • Milk chocolate is usually lower in theobromine than dark chocolate but may still have enough to be dangerous to some dogs. Milk chocolate is higher in fats and sugars and so may be very tempting for dogs to eat lots of
  • White chocolate contains little theobromine and is unlikely to cause chocolate poisoning. It is, however, very fatty and can cause painful and potentially life-threatening problems with a dog's pancreas, known as pancreatitis
  • Drinking chocolate is usually relatively low in theobromine, but the theobromine content may vary depending on the brand
  • Cocoa powder is high in theobromine and can have an even higher theobromine content than dark chocolate
  • Cocoa shell mulch is used by some gardeners on flower beds and is very high in theobromine. We don't recommend dog owners using cocoa mulch in their garden

What are the symptoms of chocolate poisoning?

Dogs with chocolate poisoning may initially be sick, have stomach pain or an upset stomach.

Theobromine is a stimulant, so it can cause your dog to become excitable or develop muscle twitching, tremors, fitting or they may have a high heart rate.

Other signs can include drinking a lot, dribbling, not walking in a straight line and fast breathing. If enough chocolate is eaten then the effects can be severe or even fatal.
Did you know that dogs don’t have ‘symptoms’?
Technically, the definition of a symptom is a clinical effect that’s been described by the patient. Since dogs can’t describe how they're feeling they actually have ‘clinical effects’ rather than ‘symptoms’. In some of our articles we use ‘symptoms’ because it’s a well understood term and is commonly used by dog owners. It may not be the correct use of the word, but we aim to produce information that’s accessible to all and can be easily found by owners.

How long does it take for a dog to show symptoms of chocolate poisoning?

Dogs usually start to show signs of illness around four hours after they’ve eaten chocolate, but occasionally it can take up to 24 hours.

How long does it take to recover from chocolate poisoning?

How long a dog is ill for depends on how much chocolate they’ve eaten, how unwell they’ve been and what treatment the vet has used, but effects usually last for around three days.

What are the long-term effects of chocolate poisoning?

Long-term effects are unlikely to occur and most dogs make a full recovery after becoming unwell from eating chocolate. In extremely rare instances, dogs may develop long-term secondary effects from serious complications, such as brain damage caused by prolonged seizures.

What should I do If my dog ate chocolate?

Call your vet straight away so that they can try to work out if your dog has eaten a toxic amount. To help your vet, try to find any packaging that might give some information on the type of chocolate that’s been eaten (dark, plain, milk, white etc.) and how much has been consumed.

If your dog is already very unwell then you may need to take them to the vets straight away. If possible, try to get someone to call ahead to alert your veterinary practice that you’re on your way so that they can be prepared.

Do not try to make your dog sick yourself as this can sometimes make the situation worse.

How can I stop my dog eating chocolate?

  • Keep any chocolate out of paws reach at all times
  • Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and some are very determined, so you may need to keep it somewhere that you know they definitely can’t reach
  • When eating chocolate, make sure your dog can't get to it and don't be tempted to feed them any, no matter how lovingly they look at you

The dangers of chocolate at Easter and Christmas

Each year, reports of dogs with chocolate poisoning rise dramatically around Christmas and Easter. During these periods take extra care to ensure that all chocolate is kept out of the reach of your dog and is not left lying around.

Christmas

At Christmas, dogs are four times more likely to be taken to the vets with chocolate poisoning than at any other time of the year. Over the festive period there’s often an abundance of chocolate, so remember to keep chocolate advent calendars up high and don’t add chocolate coins or decorations to your Christmas tree. If you know there are any wrapped chocolate boxes, try to keep these separate from the other gifts that might go under your Christmas tree. Just because it’s wrapped, doesn't mean that your dog can’t smell that it’s there.

Find out about other dangers at Christmas

Easter

At Easter, remember to keep all chocolate Easter eggs safely away from your dog. If you’re doing an Easter egg hunt then remember to keep your dog away and always check that all chocolate eggs have been found afterwards.

Find out about other dangers at Easter.

Beware sweet wrappers

Although chocolate foil wrappers are not poisonous, they can cause an obstruction if eaten. This can be dangerous and may require surgery. Signs of an obstruction may include being sick, being tired, they may be off their food, not going for a poo or finding it difficult to have a poo.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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