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About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Animals Affected

Primarily dogs; very rarely cats.

Overview

Chocolate contains two compounds, caffeine and theobromine, that are poisonous to dogs.  Caffeine and theobromine are related compounds, and have similar effects on dogs.

Consumption of small or moderate quantities of caffeine and theobromine leads to mild symptoms of agitation and nervousness.  Dogs that ingest large quantities of the two toxins may suffer irregular heartbeats and even death.

Different types of chocolate pose different risks to dogs.  Dark chocolate and unsweetened baker's chocolate are the most dangerous.  White chocolate, milk chocolate, and chocolate-coated candies (with nougat or fruit inside) contain lower levels of toxins.

In most cases, dogs must consume relatively large quantities of chocolate before serious adverse effects occur.  However, because of the potential for major complications, owners of dogs that consume chocolate should consult a veterinarian to determine the risk level.

Symptoms

Dogs that consume small quantities of chocolate may show no symptoms.  Mild intoxication with chocolate results in symptoms of agitation and excitement.

  • Pacing, panting, nervousness, and excitability are common symptoms of chocolate intoxication.
  • Dogs that have consumed chocolate may tremble or show exaggerated responses to noises and other stimuli.

Dogs that have ingested larger quantities of the toxins show more severe symptoms.

  • Urinary incontinence may occur.
  • Dogs with severe chocolate intoxication may suffer from seizures.
  • The final stages of chocolate intoxication result in coma and death.

Risk Factors

Any dog that has access to chocolate is at risk.  Some dogs display an individual affinity for the taste of chocolate, and will seek it out if it is available. These dogs often consume chocolate multiple times over their lives.

Small dogs are at greater risk of chocolate toxicity than large dogs.  This is because they can be poisoned by small quantities of chocolate.

Complications

The effects of chocolate depend on the type and amount consumed as well as the size of the dog.  Large dogs that consume moderate amounts of milk chocolate may show no symptoms.  Small dogs may suffer severe intoxication or death after consuming small amounts of dark chocolate.

Diagnosis

In most instances diagnosis is based upon physical exam findings in combination with a history of access to chocolate.  There is no definitive test for chocolate ingestion.

Treatment

Mild cases of chocolate intoxication require no treatment.  Dogs with severe chocolate intoxication usually are hospitalized for intensive supportive treatment.  There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning.   Treatment focuses on addressing symptoms and problems that develop until the toxins are excreted by the body.  In most cases, intoxication resolves over 24 -36 hours.

Veterinarians may induce vomiting in dogs that have recently ingested chocolate.  This process removes toxins from the body before they can be absorbed.

Follow-up

Dogs that recover from chocolate toxicity generally show no long-term ill effects. However, many dogs are prone to repeated bouts of chocolate intoxication.  Owners should take steps to ensure that their pets are not able to consume chocolate again in the future.

Miscellaneous

Chocolate is poisonous to cats. However, cats rarely consume sufficient chocolate to suffer from toxicity.

The minimum lethal dose of chocolate toxins is reported by the Merck Veterinary Manual (8th Ed, p. 2030) to be 115 mg/kg.   White chocolate contains negligible amounts of toxins; milk chocolate contains 45 - 60 mg of toxins per ounce; semisweet and dark chocolate contain 130 - 185 mg per ounce; unsweetened baking chocolate contains 450 mg per ounce; and cocoa powder contains 150 - 600 mg per ounce.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.