Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Do you hide your trash can in your closet because your dog likes to get into everything? We know this all too well. While we do our best to keep our faithful, tail wagging friends from getting into things that can cause them harm, we understand this can sometimes be a real challenge. For dogs, one of the more common toxins in the household is chocolate. In the following article, I will discuss chocolate toxicity, clinical signs, as well as treatments. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As if one is not enough, there are actually two toxic components to chocolate for dogs, both derive from a class of chemicals called methylxanthines. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both of which can be dangerous to your dog. The amount of chocolate and type ingested both contribute to the toxic effects seen. The higher the amount of chocolate ingested and the greater the concentration of caffeine and theobromine present, the more dangerous and likely clinical signs of toxicity will occur. Smaller dogs will have a greater likelihood of developing clinical signs of toxicity than larger dogs, although any dog can be affected.

Theobromine and caffeine are present in many different foods. Chocolates have different amounts of these chemicals based on the type of chocolate. Milk Chocolate contains a modest amount (44-64 mg/ounce) of theobromine. Semi-sweet chocolate contains about 4 times as much (around 150 mg/ounce.) Unsweetened, dark, baking chocolate contains a very large amount (almost 400 mg per ounce). Fortunately, white chocolate contains very little theobromine in it.

How these chemicals affect your dog depends on the size of your dog, their susceptibility to these chemical’s effects, and how much of the toxic compounds were in the substance eaten. Clinical signs can vary, as G.I effects like Vomiting and diarrhea which may be mild to moderate can be seen¬†where smaller amounts are ingested. Restlessness, bloating, and increased drinking may be seen in moderate toxic ingestions. In more serious cases, changes to heart and brain function can occur. This may present as signs like increased heart rates, arrhythmias, and dangerously high blood pressures. Patients may also develop rigid muscles, hyper-excitability, or tremors. In very serious cases, seizures, coma, and death can occur.

In addition to these signs, some dogs may develop pancreatitis or inflammation of their pancreas from the ingestion of chocolate. Pancreatitis is a painful G.I disorder that occurs when a high-fat meal is unable to be properly digested by the body. What results is leakage of very caustic acids from the pancreas that results in vomiting, Diarrhea, anorexia, and abdominal discomfort. Pancreatitis can range from mild to life-threatening.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but accidents do happen and dogs are very clever animals. Patients who present to the hospital with chocolate ingestion may be induced to vomit if the chocolate was eaten fairly recently. Because chocolate can be slowly absorbed by the stomach, safely inducing vomiting can be considered for up to 6 hours after ingestion. By eliminating the chocolate, signs of toxicity may be able to be avoided entirely. For dogs who already are displaying moderate signs and vomiting is no longer an option, good supportive care is used to get them through the toxic exposure. Certain drugs to help bind toxins can be given by mouth and IV fluid and anti-nausea support utilized. For dogs with serious, life-threatening signs of chocolate toxicity, drugs are used to control seizures and regulate heart rate. Mild cases can be handled on an outpatient basis, severe cases require 24 hours hospitalized care.

If you think your dog has ingested a chocolate containing food or product, it is strongly recommended to call our Veterinary Hospital as soon as possible. Please have the type of chocolate ingested (milk-chocolate, baker’s chocolate, etc.), the amount ingested, and the weight of your dog at hand. A member of our veterinary team will then be able to advise you as to the appropriate next steps to take.

Jeffrey Stupine VMD
Medical Director
World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals