Why Chocolate is Bad for Dogs

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, “Chocolate is bad for dogs.” In fact, it is one of the 20 most reported poisonings. But why is it bad?

dog staring longingly at chocolate chip cookies
Source // cropped and used under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Chocolate contain an alkaloid called “theobromine.” Theobromine is a stimulant, related to caffeine, that stimulates dogs’ central nervous system and increases their blood pressure. Because dogs’ cannot metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans can, the side effects are much more severe, ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to seizures and rapid heart rate.

How much chocolate is too much for a dog?

That depends on the size and age of the dog, and the type of chocolate. A chocolate chip cookie can cause problems for a little dog, and a whole box of chocolates can spell trouble for a big one. Think of it like the difference between giving espresso to a 5-year-old vs. a 30-year-old (I would not want to be in that coffee shop!). A larger dog can tolerate a larger amount of theobromine.

PetMD’s Dog Chocolate Toxicity Meter can help you determine the severity of poisoning.

As for the type of chocolate, the amount if theobromine varies greatly. Cocoa powder, for example, has about 800mg/oz – that’s about 16 times the amount milk chocolate has – while white chocolate has almost none.

How to treat a dog that has eaten chocolate

Treatment requires a quick response to get the chocolate out of the dog before it has a chance to enter the blood stream.

  • Induce vomiting immediately. The easiest way is to get the dog to eat 1-2 tsp of hydrogen peroxide. They should start vomiting immediately. If not, try again every 15 minutes until the dog starts to vomit. Alternatively, 2-3 tsp of Ipecac should work (but don’t try again, if it does not).
  • Then, encourage the dog to eat a small amount of activated charcoal. Charcoal binds to the theobromine to keep it from entering the bloodstream.
  • Have them drink as much water as possible to stay hydrated
  • Get them to the vet ASAP – there are special medicines that they can give the dog to stop the dangerous effects of theobromine toxicity

Time is a huge factor in treatment. If the theobromine has enough time to enter the dog’s bloodstream then it is almost impossible to treat the dog at home- emergency veterinary care is required.

Random Facts About Chocolate and Pets:

  • The half-life of theobromine in a dog’s bloodstream is around 17.5 hours, so if it is still alive 24 hours after eating the chocolate, it’s probably going to make it.
  • Cats don’t have “sweet” taste receptors. So while chocolate is equally dangerous, they don’t like it as much.
  • Theobromine is banned in horse racing because it has been used as a “performance enhancing drug” in the past
  • Theobromine poisoning has been observed in elderly people who eat excessive amounts of chocolate on a daily basis.
  • The earliest documented case of the cacao tree being cultivated is around 1100 BC in South and Central America.
  • The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec word “chocolātl” which roughly translates to “bitter drink” describing a mix of cocoa and water that the Aztecs would drink.

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