Can Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Chocolate dangers for dogs

Those of us lucky enough to have them will be tucking into plenty of Easter eggs and other chocolate treats over the Easter weekend. However, as much as your dog might try to persuade you otherwise, you should never give chocolate to them. Chocolate can be very dangerous for dogs, and if consumed in large amounts, it can be life-threatening. The toxicity of chocolate for a particular dog depends on the dog’s weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount the dog ingests.

Why is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate contains a toxin called theobromine. Theobromine is found in cocoa beans, the key ingredient in chocolate.

For humans, theobromine is easy to digest, but dogs break this chemical down much more slowly than we do. For this reason, it acts like a poison to dogs, and can cause lots of health problems.

Dark and milk chocolate also contain caffeine, a chemical related to theobromine. Caffeine is also toxic to dogs.

Can Dogs Eat White Chocolate?

Different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine. White chocolate has the lowest levels of theobromine, so is the least dangerous and is not generally considered toxic.

However, all forms of chocolate can be harmful to dogs – while they may not get chocolate poisoning from white chocolate, the high levels of fat and sugar can still make them ill, and in severe cases, can cause pancreatitis. So dogs shouldn’t have white chocolate either.

Which Type of Chocolate is Most Dangerous to Dogs?

The darker the chocolate, the higher the levels of theobromine it contains. Here is a list of different types of chocolate in order of toxicity from lowest to highest:

  • White chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • Dark chocolate
  • Cooking chocolate
  • Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder and cooking chocolate have the highest concentrations of theobromine, and pose the greatest risk to dogs. In fact, almost all ingestions of cooking chocolate and cocoa powder can result in poisoning and are considered emergencies. Cooking chocolate is often used in biscuits, cakes and other sweet treats – so it’s not just chocolate bars that pose a danger to dogs.

What Happens if a Dog Eats Chocolate?

Chocolate poisoning can have lots of harmful effects on a dog’s health, and symptoms can start to appear a couple of hours after ingestion. As well as causing gastrointestinal symptoms, theobromine and caffeine are both stimulants of the heart and brain.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased thirst
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest

How Much Chocolate Can a Dog Eat?

Dogs should never be offered chocolate. Always do your best to keep it well out of reach, and never give it as a treat.

If your dog accidentally ingests some chocolate, depending on the size of the dog, they may not suffer any symptoms of chocolate poisoning if they’ve only eaten a little bit. Smaller dogs can tolerate less chocolate before it becomes very dangerous than larger dogs. The more chocolate a dog eats, the more dangerous it is.

Below are some general guidelines for the amount of chocolate that may result in mild to moderate symptoms of chocolate poisoning:

How much chocolate is toxic for dogs?

The severity of the impact chocolate may have can vary a lot from dog to dog. Those with health conditions affecting the heart or liver, for example, may have a more extreme reaction than a dog without.

My Dog Ate Chocolate – What Should I Do?

If you think your dog has eaten chocolate, speak to your vet for advice as soon as possible. They can help you calculate how toxic the dose may be for your pet, taking into account their individual health and circumstances too.

You can also call the Animal Poison Line on 01202 509000 for advice.

If you know how much chocolate your dog has eaten, you can use this chocolate toxicity calculator for an idea of how much danger your dog is in. The calculator takes into account the type and amount of chocolate eaten, as well as the size of your dog to determine if the dose of theobromine they have ingested is an emergency. However, it’s still best to get in touch with your vet regardless – as mentioned above, some dogs will react in a worse way than others owing to other health factors that this calculator does not take into account.

In many cases where only small amounts of chocolate have been eaten, your vet may just advise you to closely monitor your dog for 24 hours to check for symptoms of poisoning.

More serious cases may require treatment. Treatment for chocolate poisoning will depend on how long ago the chocolate was eaten, but it will usually be based on damage limitation. This sometimes includes inducing vomiting to limit the amount of theobromine that can get into your dog’s system. It may also include intravenous fluids, sedatives or anticonvulsants.

Never try to make your pet sick at home. It is very unsafe to try and make your dog sick yourself, particularly when potentially harmful substances are used. It’s not controlled and can lead to dehydration on top of the poisoning risks.

How Can I Protect My Dog from Chocolate Poisoning?

Most cases of chocolate poisoning in dogs are accidental, and happen when sneaky pups eat their owner’s chocolate without them noticing. There’s a huge rise in incidents around Easter and Christmas when chocolate eggs and selection boxes are rife in the home. Your dog might also scavenge some on a walk if there has been any dropped on the ground.

Here are our top tips for protecting your dog from chocolate poisoning:

  • Store all chocolate (including cakes, biscuits and other chocolate-containing sweet treats) in high cupboards that your dog cannot reach.
  • Keep an eye on the ground during walks, particularly on bin days, to make sure your dog doesn’t eat any chocolate that’s fallen on the pavement.
  • Make sure your bin is pup-proof. Our dogs have an excellent sense of smell and many won’t hesitate to explore the contents of the bin if they get the chance.
  • Educate your children (and any well-meaning visitors) on the importance of keeping chocolate away from dogs so that they don’t unknowingly offer any titbits.

What Treats Can I Give My Dog?

Just because dogs can’t have chocolate doesn’t mean they have to miss out on all the fun at Easter! Specialist treats and chews make much better alternatives to chocolate or any other high-calorie human foods, and will often contain ingredients that support your pet’s health.

For special occasions like Easter you might also like to try:

Dog Chocolate

A special type of dog-friendly chocolate is available from some brands. Dog chocolate tends to be made from an ingredient called carob in place of cocoa. Carob, which comes from a bean, has a similar taste to chocolate but doesn’t contain theobromine or caffeine, so isn’t toxic for dogs.

Dog ‘Easter Eggs’

Why not try our tasty Easter-egg shaped dog biscuit recipe? These biscuits use dog-friendly ingredients that you’ll probably already have in your cupboard, they’re easy to make, and they have a satisfying crunch your dog will love! Find our dog Easter egg recipe here.

Luxury Natural Dog Treats

If you really want to spoil your dog, take a look at the mouth-watering NAW dog treat range. NAW Lamb Ears, for example, are packed with protein and have a tantalising texture that is sure to get tails wagging!

Just remember that treats count as part of your dog’s daily food intake, so take this into account when portioning out their meals. Treats should be given as part of a balanced overall diet, and be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s overall weight and body condition.

Wrapping Up

While some dogs might not suffer any serious symptoms after eating chocolate if it’s only a little bit, it’s still very important to keep all chocolatey foods well away from them just in case. Any amount of chocolate could cause harm. It’s always best to contact your vet if you think your dog has eaten any.

As well as posing the risk of theobromine poisoning, chocolate also contains high levels of fat and sugar which can also cause harm to your dog. Boxes of chocolates that contain fillings might also contain other harmful ingredients, like raisins, alcohol and certain nuts. If you still want to give your dog something a little special for Easter, opt for some of our delicious, dog-friendly suggestions above!

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker
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