If there’s one thing most pet parents know not to feed their dogs, it’s chocolate. Is this age-old dictum fact or fiction? Will that single peanut-butter-and-chocolate cup cause your 120-pound Saint Bernard to keel over and bite the dust?
Some pet parents have probably rushed to their dogs’ sides, frantically prying Hershey’s Kisses out of their jaws to “save their lives.” Chances are the dogs survived those quick bites of chocolate and got by with only a bit of indigestion. Does this mean chocolate isn’t toxic to dogs?
Many factors contribute to chocolate toxicity. In this week’s HOW TO we’ll explore just why chocolate can be toxic to your dog depending on his size, the amount of chocolate and the type of chocolate consumed.
What is Chocolate Toxicity?
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the fruit on cacao trees. This fruit is referred to as a “cacao pod,” and the seeds within it are usually released when wild animals, such as monkeys, break the fruit open and discard the seed, which is bitter in taste. Ironically, this bitter seed creates that delicious candy called chocolate. The seeds are loaded with theobromine and caffeine, both extremely toxic elements when it comes to dogs, writes Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
“Cocoa butter is the fat that is extracted from the chocolate liquor,” writes Mar Vista. “Cocoa powder is the solid that remains after the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate liquor. The powder can be treated with alkali in a process called ‘Dutching,’ or it can be left alone.”
The following amounts of liquor can be found in these types of chocolate:
Unsweetened chocolate contains 50 percent chocolate liquor to 60 percent cocoa butter.
Semisweet chocolate contains 35 percent chocolate liquor (the rest being sugar, vanilla or lecithin).
Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor (the rest being milk solids, vanilla or lecithin).
Why is it important to know how much chocolate liquor is in each type of chocolate? Increased amounts mean increased amounts of theobromine, which is what’s toxic to your dog.
“This makes baking chocolate the worst for pets,” writes Mar Vista. “Followed by semisweet and dark chocolate, followed by milk chocolate, followed by chocolate-flavored cakes or cookies.”
Too much theobromine and your dog can suffer tremors, seizures and even death.
How Much Chocolate is Too Much?
For example, suppose your Husky ingests a small cube of chocolate. While he may not experience any problems, a 4-pound Yorkie could have a severe reaction. On the other hand, a large dog could still react to a small amount of chocolate for his size if he has a predisposition to becoming ill when ingesting theobromine.
Mar Vista writes that a toxic dose of theobromine ranges from 9 to 18 mg of theobromine per pound of dog – with resulting symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
“Milk chocolate contains 44 mg per ounce of theobromine, while semisweet chocolate contains 150 mg per ounce and baking chocolate contains 390 mg per ounce,” writes Mar Vista.
Michael Levine, DVM, of suite101.com, writes that a toxic dose is 100 milligrams of chocolate per each kilogram of your dog’s weight.
He provides the following formula for determining the toxic doses of different types of chocolate based on your dog’s weight:
Milk chocolate: 1 ounce per each pound
Semisweet chocolate: 1 ounce per 3 pounds
Baker’s chocolate: 1 ounce per 9 pounds
What are the Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity?
If you’re not sure whether your dog has ingested chocolate but suspect he has, look for the following signs of chocolate toxicity, according to talktothevet.com:
Chocolate toxicity affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems. If any of these symptoms occur, it’s important to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
How is Chocolate Toxicity Treated?
If your dog does pull a fast one and sneaks some chocolate, it’s possible to reduce the toxic effects by inducing vomiting.
“It takes about two hours for the stomach to empty entirely, so if the dog ate the chocolate within the past two hours, vomiting can be induced to bring up a portion of the potentially toxic meal,” explained Dr. Levine.
Still, even with induced vomiting, not all of the chocolate will come up – between 30 to 60 percent of it can still make its way to your dog’s intestines. Talktothevet.com recommends using activated charcoal to keep your dog’s body from absorbing the toxins. If your dog eats milk chocolate, he may experience diarrhea for a prolonged period of time, which can lead to dehydration, so make sure to keep him well-hydrated with fluids during this time.
As with all emergency situations, it’s very important to immediately contact your dog’s veterinarian. Although you can induce vomiting within the first few hours, Talktothevet.com notes that your dog will still need veterinary care, which may include an anticonvulsant (for any neurological signs that need to be controlled), oxygen therapy, intravenous medications and fluids to protect his heart.
It can take as long as four days for the chocolate to make its way through your dog’s body, and he’ll need to be under supervision until it’s entirely gone.