What Can Dogs Eat?

Can Dogs Eat Chocolate? – Here’s Why, According to a Vet

Written by Dr. Pippa Elliott

Can dogs eat chocolate? The short answer is a big fat “No” because chocolate is toxic to dogs (and cats too!) and can result in heart palpations and seizures, or even be fatal. If a dog eats chocolate some get sicker than others, but it’s safest to assume the worst and act as quickly as possible.

Your emergency actions include:

  • Quickly estimate how much chocolate the dog ate (i.e. the size of the chocolate bar) and its type (plain, milk, white.)
  • Phone the vet with these details and ask their advice

The vet can advise you whether or not this is a toxic dose, and the action needed. This can include making the dog sick, intravenous fluids, and administering oral liquid charcoal.

Can dogs eat chocolate? No, and here’s why.

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

How can something we find so delicious be so dangerous to dogs? Unfortunately for our fur friends, chocolate contains a methyl-xanthine called theobromine, which is a powerful stimulant in dogs. To make matters worse, some dogs lack the ability to disarm this stimulant.

The consequences of a high dose or a small amount in a sensitive dog can be potentially life-threatening seizures and erratic heart rhythms.

An owner should never give chocolate to their best buddy, but what if that greedy hound sneaks off and steals some?

Symptoms: Chocolate and Dogs

Your dog ate chocolate: what signs might you see?

How ill a dog becomes depends on two main factors: how much chocolate they ate compared to their size, and their individual ability to metabolize chocolate.

For lucky dogs that only ate a small amount, after a few hours the dog may get a stomach upset with sickness and diarrhoea. Those less fortunate that either consumed an Easter Bunny’s basket load or are extra sensitive, they may show over-excitement, uncontrolled trembling, a racing heart, and seizures.

You can use a calculator like this to see the difference.

Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

You come home from work to find Rover and an empty box of chocolates. Here are the smoking-gun signs that the dog did indeed eat chocolate:

  • Increased thirst
  • Sickness and diarrhoea
  • Trembling, twitching, or shaking
  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unusually restless or agitated
  • Acting hyper-active
  • A racing heart
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

Please note it takes between 4 – 24 hours for the symptoms to show, by which time making the dog vomit is of no benefit because the stimulant is already in their bloodstream.

My Dog ate a Small Square of Chocolate

If a large dog eats a small amount of chocolate, they may get away with just a stomach upset. For the majority of dogs how sick they get is ‘dose-related’. In other words, a Saint Bernard that eats a square of chocolate is much less worrying than a Chihuahua that ate the same amount.

And if this sounds overly dramatic, remember that in dogs theobromine is three to ten times more stimulating than caffeine. Have you ever had the shakes after a strong coffee? Now, imagine drinking ten-cups worth!

Some Chocolate is Worse than Others

Just as beer has a lower alcohol content than whisky, so white chocolate contains a lot less theobromine than the plain variety.  For example:

White chocolate0.25mg theobromine per ounce
Milk chocolateAround 58 mg theobromine per ounce
Plain chocolateUp to 450mg theobromine per ounce

Knowing what type of chocolate the dog ate is important. For example, a square of plain chocolate contains up to 1,800 times theobromine content of white chocolate. This has big implications for how ill the dog might become and the treatment needed.

Dogs in Greater Danger

But not all dogs are equally affected. A small percentage of fur-friends are much more sensitive than others to the theobromine in chocolate. This is because some dogs are born lacking a hormone (called CYP1A2 1117C>T polymorphism) whose job it is to get rid of theobromine. Without this hormone, the stimulant effects are much greater and last for longer.

Unfortunately, for these dogs even a small amount of chocolate is extremely dangerous…hence the need to act quickly to be on the safe side. And sadly, there is no lab test or way of knowing in advance if your dog is one of those that lack this hormone.

My Dog Ate Chocolate. What to Do?

Time is everything! Don’t wait to see what happens, because by the time the dog shows symptoms they may be in danger. Instead, act immediately with the dog’s best chance of recovery being to vomit the chocolate up within two hours of eating it.

Dog Ate Chocolate 101

After a dog eats chocolate, there’s a magic window of just two hours, whereby making the dog vomit can save a lot of heartache.

When you discover those chewed up wrappers, get as much information as possible about the type and quantity of chocolate eaten, and then call the vet immediately. They can do the math and work out how much theobromine the dog ate, and if this is a toxic amount in proportion to their body size.

For a low dose eaten some hours ago, the vet may suggest monitoring the dog. But for moderate to high doses, it’s not worth taking any risks and they will almost certainly want to make the dog vomit up their ill-gotten treat.

A few words of caution about making a dog vomit

Some home remedies to induce sickness can be dangerous. Methods such as washing soda crystals or high doses of salt can cause serious complications such as highly erosive ulcers or kidney failure. Although it may be tempting to try a home remedy, be aware it risks creating expensive (and heart-breaking) complications.

The safest option is an injection given by the vet, which is both safe and extremely effective at making dogs vomit. It makes sense in the long run.

Phone the Veterinarian

If the dog ate a dangerous amount of chocolate, the vet gives an emetic injection to make the dog sick. To soak up any chocolate still in the gut, the vet may suggest giving liquid charcoal for a few days.

If the dog is showing signs such as a racing heart or muscle tremors, then intravenous fluids may be a good idea. This helps to flush the theobromine through the body to get rid of it faster and support their strained kidneys

In some cases, it might be necessary to give a sedative medication to reduce the shakes and try to calm the heart. These dogs need careful monitoring and might need to be in-patients for several days before they’re out of the woods.

Can dogs eat chocolate? No…which is kind of good news as it means all the more chocolate for us to eat.

About the author

Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr Pippa Elliott BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years experience in companion animal practice. In 1987 she graduated from the University of Glasgow, with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. Read More.

Leave a Comment