Dogs eating chocolate

Your dog may love the smell and taste of chocolate as much as you do but did you know that chocolate is toxic for dogs?  It’s so toxic that even a small amount of chocolate can make your pooch seriously ill.

There’s an increased risk of dogs eating chocolate during special occasions such as Easter, Valentines Day, Christmas and Halloween, when there is more chocolate in our homes.  It’s best to keep all chocolate out of reach of your dog’s mouth and paws at all times!

What makes chocolate toxic to dogs?

Chocolate contains cocoa beans which are are rich in theobromine and caffeine.  These naturally occurring stimulants can really mess up the balance in a dog’s body as they negatively effect the dog’s nervous system and heart.  The concentration of theobromine and caffeine varies widely among forms of chocolate.  The worst or most toxic chocolate is dark chocolate because it’s richer in cocoa and therefore contains more theobromine and caffeine than milk or white chocolate.

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity

The symptoms can show up in as little as an hour and are likely to get worse as the dog digests and metabolises the chocolate.  Caffeine and theobromine toxicity can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Frequent Urination
  • Restlessness
  • Arrhythmia (fast heartbeat)
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart attacks
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death in severe cases

How much chocolate is too much?

Any dog that has eaten chocolate is at risk of poisoning but some dogs are at a higher risk than others. Some dogs may not feel the effects of eating chocolate at all whilst others may feel the effects immediately. When Tiffin was a puppy we left a Wispa bar out on the arm of the sofa and she ate what was left.  I think there was about half a bar left.  We watched her like hawks for hours afterwards but she didn’t show any adverse signs of having a reaction to the chocolate.  We were lucky on that occasion and we’ve never left chocolate unattended since that scare.

Generally, how much chocolate is too much for dogs depends on a number of factors including:

  • Weight of dog
  • Age of dog
  • Overall health of dog
  • Type of chocolate eaten
  • Amount of chocolate eaten

So, for example, a Chihuahua eating a few grams of chocolate may experience different side effects to a Great Dane who eats the same amount of chocolate.  If your dog has eaten chocolate, however small the amount, I would monitor her and if concerned you should contact your vet for professional advice.

So, why can humans eat chocolate?

We can quickly and easily digest theobromine and caffeine so it doesn’t cause us any problems.  Dogs, however, metabolise the stimulants much slower and as a result the stimulants accumulate in the body in an amount that can be toxic or even fatal.

Prevent your dog from eating chocolate

The easiest way to prevent dogs eating chocolate is to keep them away from it – this is often easier said than done but here are a few tips that can help:

  • Make sure children and visitors understand the risks and know not to give your dog chocolate
  • Keep chocolate out of your dog’s reach at all times.  This includes chocolate Christmas decorations, hot chocolate, easter eggs on an easter egg hunt or a chocolate cake cooling on the worktop unsupervised
  • Ensure that all your bins are dog proof
  • Supervise your dog outside of the house to make sure she doesn’t pick up food on the streets

If you suspect or know that your dog has eaten chocolate I recommend monitoring your dog and contacting your vet for advice.  If you’re interested in finding about other foods that are dangerous for your dog to eat, check out my blog which tells you about 13 toxic foods for dogs

Alternatives to chocolate for dogs

Carob, which comes from the pod of a tree that grows in the Mediterranean, is the perfect substitute for chocolate for dogs because it’s the same colour as chocolate.  It has a mild sweet flavour and doesn’t contain caffeine and only trace amounts of theobromine which makes it safe for dogs.  It’s also really healthy and contains tons of vitamins, fibre, minerals, calcium and is a great source of protein.

The way carob is prepared – powder, chips or syrup – often leaves it with similar fat and calorie content to chocolate so you should feed it to your dog in moderation. 

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Some dog treats have carob in but you should check the ingredients list before buying as many treats contain sugar as well which isn’t good for dogs.

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