Why Chocolate is Poisonous for Your Dog

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With Halloween coming up, talking about dogs and chocolate is important.

I know that most pet owners know that dogs can’t have chocolatey treats. And honestly, it’s a conversation I’ve had a thousand times. I’ll have it a thousand more, if it means saving one dog.

Because despite the fact that most dog owners know they can’t give chocolate to their pups, chocolate poisoning in dogs remains a problem.

As we move into Halloween, there are treats everywhere — and they continue through the rest of the year, thanks to other festive holidays like Christmas.

So, let’s talk about why dogs can’t have chocolate.

Why Chocolate is Toxic to Dogs

Chocolate and cocoa are products of cacao beans, after they’re fermented, roasted, shelled, and ground. The resulting product actually contains two ingredients that are dangerous for our pups: theobromine and caffeine.

Caffeine might perk you up, but this stimulant is simply too much for our dogs to handle. Most of the symptoms of caffeine toxicity stem from the stimulant effects. Dogs that consume caffeine may have an increased heart rate. They get jittery, hyperactive, and restless. They could also be pacing back and forth, or vocalize excessively.

In more severe cases, caffeine raises blood pressure, causes cardiac arrhythmias, or can lead to tremors or seizures.

Chocolate also contains theobromine, a caffeine-like molecule that increases blood flow to the brain. Dogs metabolize it much more slowly, which allows it to build up to toxic levels in their system. Dark chocolate contains more theobromine than milk chocolate or white chocolate, but all chocolate can be dangerous for dogs.

A small amount of chocolate will likely only result in an upset stomach with vomiting or diarrhea. However, smaller doses can still cause seizures and other symptoms. In large amounts, theobromine can cause muscle tremors, seizures, and irregular heartbeat, internal bleeding, or a heart attack.

How Much Chocolate is Toxic?

Of course, just how much chocolate is toxic is dependent on your dog’s size, and the variety of chocolate — remember, dark chocolate contains more theobromine. In general, toxicity starts at around 20 mg of theobromine per 2 pounds of body weight.

Small dogs are clearly at more of a risk than large dogs. But really, any amount of chocolate should be avoided at all costs. Even just an ounce of dark chocolate could be enough to poison a medium-sized dog.

If you suspect your dog may have eaten any chocolate, look for symptoms and call your veterinarian immediately. The usual treatment for theobromine poisoning is to induce vomiting within two hours of ingestion, but you really should talk to your vet before administering any treatment yourself.

If you have a small dog that you think has eaten a large quantity of chocolate, do not wait to call your veterinarian. It could be life-threatening.