Dogs have a nose for sniffing out sweet treats, especially chocolate. Cats, on the other hand, are often too discriminating to eat large amounts of this sweet snack, and they do not have receptors for sweet tastes, so chocolate holds no appeal. While food toxicities are common in pets, phone calls about chocolate ingestion are so frequent that the ASPCA placed chocolate in its own toxicity category. In fact, chocolate ranked fourth on the list of most common pet toxins in 2019, with an average 67 cases per day. Although completely avoiding chocolate in your home is tough, take proper precautions to keep holiday treats, desserts, and snacks out of paws’ reach to avoid a toxic event. But, how much chocolate is too much? And, what happens if your pooch sniffs out your secret stash? Let’s find out.

How much chocolate is too much for my pet?

Knowing the kind and amount of chocolate your pet ate is critical for determining the toxicity level. While white chocolate is highly unlikely to cause issues, unless your pet consumed a massive quantity, milk, dark, and baker’s chocolate pose a serious threat. Cocoa powder, cocoa beans, and cocoa mulch also contain varying amounts of theobromine and caffeine, the toxic ingredients found in chocolate. These two ingredients are known as methylxanthines, and are found in increasing amounts in darker chocolate. Examples of toxic methylxanthine amounts in pets include:

  • Four ounces of milk chocolate for a 25-pound dog
  • One ounce of dark chocolate for a 15-pound dog
  • Two ounces of baker’s chocolate for a 50-pound dog
  • Two ounces of dry cocoa powder for a 100-pound dog
  • Two ounces of cocoa bean mulch for a 50-pound dog

As you can see, only a little of the darker, more concentrated chocolate can create a toxic effect in pets that requires emergency treatment. When in doubt about the toxicity potential for chocolate your pet has ingested, contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center or our team for advice. Estimate the amount your pet ate, the type of chocolate, and how long ago it happened. Take note of whether your pet ate the wrappers as well, or chocolate that contained raisins or nuts, which can also be toxic. For a quick estimate of the toxicity of the chocolate your furry pal ingested, plug in the amounts to this chocolate toxicity calculator.

What are the signs of chocolate toxicity in pets?

Chocolate toxicity signs in pets may not occur until 6 to 12 hours after ingestion, so determining the cause of illness may be difficult, unless you find a pile of destroyed chocolate wrappers. In addition to triggering pancreatitis, chocolate toxicity can cause various signs, including:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Ataxia
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hyperthermia

Initial signs are likely to include vomiting, diarrhea, and thirst, but can progress to ataxia, tremors, and seizures. Death can also occur because of hyperthermia, heart arrhythmias, and respiratory failure. Immediate treatment is critical for warding off more serious poisoning effects.

What is the treatment for chocolate toxicity in pets?

As soon as you realize your pet has eaten chocolate, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team. We’ll let you know if you need to induce vomiting in your pet, or head straight to our hospital. We’ll begin treatment to alleviate your pet’s signs, such as muscle relaxers and valium for tremors and mild seizures. Flushing out the toxins with intravenous fluids is greatly beneficial, as well as administering activated charcoal to bind the remaining toxins. Severe cases may require 72 hours of intensive nursing care before signs begin to resolve.

While seeing your beloved pet suffer from something as benign as eating chocolate can be scary, with prompt treatment, they can recover from their brush with methylxanthine toxicity. Avoid the scare by keeping all chocolates out of your pet’s reach, especially around the holidays that are filled with these sweet treats. 

Is your pet skilled at sniffing out sweet treats and getting their paws on toxic foods? If your pooch ate your secret chocolate stash, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team for immediate help.