Did You Know Chocolate Is Toxic To Dogs?
Halloween is coming and as a veterinarian it is one of the biggest days of the year for treating dog with toxicities. Valentine’s Day is another Chocolate filled day. If you rather spend time with your kids then at the vets here is some vital information! From one chocoholic to another- keep your animals SAFE this Halloween. Hope will not be getting any! <Insert sad dog face>Dogs are GREAT at getting into things. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzer, Dachshunds are just a few breeds I have seen repeatedly. One Halloween, I remember an owner bringing in their 12 week old lab puppy for suspected chocolate ingestion to only find out it was their 10 year old black lab who had climbed up on the table and devoured a bowl of chocolate. This dog was fine with the appropriate treatment and I can smile about it know thinking of the poor puppy’s face after inducing vomiting with no chocolate. It is important to know that chocolate can be toxic, and sometimes even fatal, for all animals and not just dogs. Yes, cats too!
Here are a few FACTS you may not know…
What makes chocolate toxic?
Chocolate is made from the fruit (beans) of the cacao tree. Theobromine, a component of chocolate, is a toxic compound in chocolate. Caffeine is also present in chocolate and a toxic component, but in much smaller amounts than Theobromine. Both Theobromine and Caffeine are members of a drug class called Methylxanines.
Theobromine & caffeine effects on the body:1,2
- Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulant: hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, ataxia (unstable walking)
- Cardiovascular stimulant: abnormal heart rhythm, changes in heart rate
- Respiratory: Increased breathing rate
- Changes in Blood pressure
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Pancreatitis is a potential sequela 24 to 72 hours after ingestion due to the high fat content
- Death is generally due to cardiac arrhythmias or respiratory failure.
Why isn’t chocolate toxic to humans?
Humans can break down and excrete Theobromine much more efficiently than dogs. The half life of Theobromine in the dog is long; approximately 17.5 hours.
Are some chocolates more toxic than others?
Yes. Unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate contains 8-10 times the amount of Theobromine as milk chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate falls roughly in between the two for Theobromine content. White chocolate contains Theobromine, but in such small amounts that Theobromine poisoning is unlikely. Caffeine is present in chocolate, but less than Theobromine.
Quick Guide for Theobromine levels in different types of chocolate:
From The Merck Veterinary Manual, here are approximate Theobromine levels of different types of chocolate*:
- Dry cocoa powder = 800 mg/oz
- Unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate = 450 mg/oz
- Cocoa bean mulch = 255 mg/oz
- Semisweet chocolate and sweet dark chocolate is = 150-160 mg/oz
- Milk chocolate = 44-64 mg Theobromine per oz chocolate
- White chocolate contains an insignificant source of methylxanthines.
*The exact amounts of methylxanthines will vary because of natural variation of the cocoa beans and variation within brands of products.
How is chocolate ingestion treated?
The first step is to contact your veterinarian. They will want to know the type and amount of the chocolate, when it could have been ingested as well as the weight of your dog and any symptoms. Save wrappers if possible to bring to your vet. The more information provided, the easier it will be for your veterinarian to develop a custom treatment plan. This can range from decontamination to hospitalization depending on the severity of the toxicity. Just like humans, each pet reacts differently and is SO important to reach out to your family veterinarian or emergency veterinarian if your vet is closed. The sooner treatment is started the better! I have seen significant issues with chocolate toxicity so I always recommend to my clients to seek consultation.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is also a great resource. They are your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency and are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is a fee based service but well worth it! You talk directly with a veterinary toxicologist. I have used their services to help my clients when there are toxins I am not familiar with and everyone has been super happy with the results.
Be Safe This Halloween!
1. Beasley V.R., et al: A Systems Affected Approach To Veterinary Toxicology. University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana, IL, pp. 116-120, 1999.
2. Hooser S.B., Beasley VR.: Methylxanthine poisoning (chocolate and caffeine toxicosis). In: Current Veterinary Therapy for Small Animal Practice IX. WB Saunders, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 191-192, 1986.