© Roxane R. Fritz
You love chocolate. You love your dog. So you want to reward your dog with what you think is one of life’s greatest pleasures, chocolate. STOP! Under NO circumstance should you feed your dog chocolate. Chocolate is toxic, and often fatal for dogs.
Why is Chocolate toxic to dogs and not humans? Chocolate contains both Theobromine and Caffeine, which are known as Methylxanthines, in levels that are toxic to dogs because of their relatively smaller body size.
What does Theobromine do to the body? Much like caffeine, it is a Central Nervous System and Cardiovascular stimulant; it can increase blood pressure and bring on nausea and vomiting. Some symptoms that a dog may display are: excitement (including nervousness or trembling), restlessness, hyperactivity, hypersensitivity to touch, rapid heartbeat and breathing rate, loss of control of leg muscles, muscle tremor seizures, weakness, Vomiting / diarrhea, Excessive thirst, excessive urination, coma and death.
Some chocolates are more deadly than others. Unsweetened chocolate, sometimes known as Bakers chocolate, contains 450 milligrams of theobromine per ounce (8-10 times the amount of Theobromine in milk chocolate at 45-60 mgs/ounce). Semi-sweet chocolate (130-185 mgs/ounce) falls roughly in between the two for Theobromine content. White chocolate contains Theobromine, but in very small amounts. The size of your dog can also play a factor, the smaller the dog, the less chocolate needed to be toxic. Based on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APPC) experience, mild signs occur in animals ingesting 10 milligrams of theobromine per pound of body weight, severe signs are seen at doses of over 20 mgs per pound of body weight, and 70 mgs/pound of body weight is a fatal dose for both dogs and humans. Just 2 ounces of baking chocolate or 4 ounces (1/4 pound) of dark chocolate contains a fatal dose of theobromine for a 15-pound dog, and death can occur within 6 to 24 hours of ingesting. If your pug eats as small an amount as 1 Tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips, it may be fatal. Death from heart failure can also occur after a few days of chronic cumulative exposure (smaller amounts of chocolate eaten over several days).
What should you do if you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate? Immediately call your veterinarian for advice. They will likely suggest that you bring the dog in right away. Be sure to grab any uneaten chocolate so your veterinarian can better diagnose the severity of the situation.
The treatment depends on the size of your dog as well as quantity and type of chocolate it has ingested. There is no specific antidote for Theobromine toxicity but treatment may include IV fluids, medications that induce vomiting, activated charcoal, anti-seizure medications and/or cardiac medications. If ingestion has occurred within 6 hours, it is worthwhile to induce vomiting in order to lessen the overall exposure to the theobromine. Your veterinarian can perform this procedure, but if you are in a remote area or don’t have access to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian within 6 hours of exposure, you can induce vomiting by having your dog swallow a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide administered with a turkey baster. This technique can also be a lifesaver if your dog has eaten snail bait. Do not attempt this emergency procedure without first consulting a veterinarian.
It takes quite a bit of time for chocolate to break down and be excreted in dogs, from 16 to 24 hours, so just because your dog ate chocolate while you were at work and seems fine now, does not mean that it is not going to affect them. Certain medications like steroids (prednisone and similar drugs) and erythromycin (an antibiotic) interfere with excretion of theobromine, and can worsen and lengthen the symptoms.
If you suspect your dog has eaten some chocolate and are unable to contact your regular veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian, call animal poison control hotline. There is usually a charge for this service (usually from $30-$80.00) so have your credit card ready or use a 1-900 number. 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435), 888-232-8870, 800-528-2423 and 900-680-0000 are all Animal Poison Center Hotlines.