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My Dog Ate Chocolate, What Do I Do?

Understanding the dangers of chocolate and what to do if your dog eats this sweet treat will ensure your pup has a more positive outcome from a potentially deadly treat. 

My Dog Ate Chocolate, What Do I Do?

Understanding the dangers of chocolate and what to do if your dog eats this sweet treat will ensure your pup has a more positive outcome from a potentially deadly treat. 

By: Dr. Juli, DVM

Chocolate is a popular sweet treat many people enjoy during times of sorrow, celebration, or holiday-themed gatherings, including Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The tempting chocolate aroma is irresistible to many people, and your four-legged best friend may also drool at the sight and smell of chocolate or chocolate-flavored treats.

However, chocolate is toxic and sometimes deadly to dogs. Accidental toxin ingestion is common in dogs, and in 2023, chocolate was the number one dog toxin reported by the Pet Poison Helpline and the fourth most common pet toxin reported by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in 2022. Dogs explore the world with their nose and mouth, so accidental toxin ingestion can occur anytime. Understanding the dangers of chocolate and what to do if your dog eats this sweet treat will ensure your pup has a more positive outcome from a potentially deadly treat. 

If your dog ate chocolate, save the wrapper and contact an Animal Poison Control center or emergency vet immediately. Veterinary professionals will be able to advise you on the ideal next steps to ensure your pup’s safety.

Why is Chocolate Dangerous for Dogs?

Some chocolates, especially dark chocolate varieties, may have health benefits for people, such as antioxidants. Unfortunately, the same is not true for our pets, including dogs. Unlike humans, dogs cannot metabolize the ingredients in chocolate.

Although rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion can lead to severe illness in your pet from ingestion of the methylxanthine stimulants present. Specifically, theobromine and caffeine are present in variable amounts in most types of chocolate and have similar effects. However, the toxic effects of theobromine last longer than caffeine, and it can take several days for the stimulants to process through a dog's body. Additionally, chocolate ingestion can also lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory condition that can be life-threatening. Pancreatitis can be triggered by the high-fat content of some chocolates.

The toxic effects of chocolate can vary based on your dog's body weight, the amount and type of chocolate ingested, and how quickly treatment is administered. As a general rule, the darker and less sweet the chocolate, the higher the levels of methylxanthine stimulants present. Different types of chocolate may have different levels of fat, sugar, cacao or cocoa powder, and stimulants. For example, baker's chocolate tends to have the highest levels of methylxanthines, while white chocolate and milk chocolate tend to have the lowest amount of theobromine. However, unlike baking chocolate, these often contain higher fat content.

For some dogs, just one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be lethal. In addition to the toxic chemicals and fat, some chocolate treats or bars may contain other pet-toxic ingredients such as macadamia nuts, raisins, salt, espresso beans, or xylitol. Most dogs will not discriminate between the candy wrapper and the treat, and wrappers can lead to upset stomachs and, in more severe cases, intestinal blockages that could require surgical removal. 

Chocolate Toxicity Signs in Dogs

Dogs who ingest toxic amounts of chocolate are at risk for death due to cardiac arrest or central nervous system problems. Signs of chocolate poisoning may not be immediately apparent. They can take more than eight hours for full effects in some cases. Signs and severity are variable depending on the kind of chocolate, the amount ingested, and the dog's size.

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in dogs may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyperreactivity
  • Increased reflexes
  • Increased heart rate or irregular heart rhythms
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Tremors 
  • Hyperthermia (i.e., high body temperature)
  • Seizures

What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate

It can be scary for pet parents when they realize their pup has ingested something dangerous. Preparing for dog accidents will ensure your dog has the best chance of recovery from an accidental toxicity.

Follow these Dos and Don'ts when caring for your chocolate-loving pooch:

  • DO remain calm – Dogs may be easily agitated from the chocolate; remaining calm will decrease the chances of injury or excess stress.
  • DO save the wrapperEnsure you provide your veterinarian with the ingredient list and the amount of chocolate ingested to calculate the toxicity level. A chocolate toxicity calculator can also help determine if your dog has ingested a poisonous amount.  
  • DO call poison control or your veterinarian – Keep the ASPCA Animal Poison Control and the closest emergency vet numbers on hand. Call one of these sources to determine the next steps. 
  • DON'T induce vomiting without veterinary direction – In some cases, vomiting can make the problem worse, and never use household products, including salt or ipecac, to induce vomiting as they are toxic to dogs. 
  • DON'T wait to seek veterinary care – Some dogs do not show toxicity signs for hours following chocolate ingestion. A quick response will drastically decrease the chances of severe toxicity signs and illness. 

Treatments for Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Bring your dog for immediate veterinary care if you observe them eating any amount of chocolate, if they are showing symptoms of chocolate poisoning, or if you suspect they may have ingested something containing chocolate. Small amounts can be fatal, especially in small-breed dogs, and a quick response will ensure a more positive outcome. Additionally, your veterinarian may induce vomiting with a dog-safe medication if the ingestion occurred recently.

Dogs with severe clinical signs, including seizures or heart rate abnormalities, may require an overnight stay in the hospital for emergency care, observation, and testing to rule out secondary problems, like pancreatitis or electrolyte imbalances. It can take several days for your pet's signs to resolve, and immediate, aggressive therapy will ensure the best outcome.

Treatments may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and decontaminate 
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Activated charcoal for toxin absorption
  • Gastroprotectant medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Sedative medications
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Specialized cooling pads
  • Heart medications 

How to Help a Dog Who Ate Chocolate Recover

Fortunately, most dogs who receive immediate treatment will fully recover without any long-term effects. Following initial treatment, supportive care may be required, including a bland diet and gastro-protectant medications for dogs with diarrhea or pancreatitis. Some dogs may benefit from a probiotic, like Native Pet Probiotic Powder, to help rebalance their gut flora after ingesting chocolate.

Accidents can happen anytime; preventing your pup from ingesting something toxic isn't always possible. Ensuring any food, drinks, or sweet treats containing chocolate remain out of paw's reach is the best way to prevent accidental chocolate poisoning in your dog.

Other prevention tips include:

  • Checking the label before giving your dog any human food to ensure it does not have chocolate, caffeine, or other pet-toxic ingredients
  • Covering all garbage cans to prevent ingestion of candy wrappers or food scraps
  • Limit the accessibility of chocolates and candy — never leave chocolate in dishes where a dog can climb or reach
  • Never leave foods containing chocolate out in a room with an unsupervised dog
  • Storing treats and sweets in a pet-proof container
  • Educating household guests on the dangers of sharing chocolate with dogs
  • Placing your pup in a safe room with toys and dog-friendly treats, like Native Pet Yak Chews, during household gatherings 

Chocolate can be difficult for pets and pet owners to resist. A quick and calm response will ensure your dog has the most favorable outcome and recovery.

For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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