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What to do when your dog eats chocolate (plus 1 thing you should never do)

Some human foods, such as carrot sticks, berries, and the occasional peanut butter cookie, are all perfectly safe for dogs in moderation. Other foods, however, should never be shared with your pup. Foods containing garlic, onions, or chocolate are firmly on the list of Forbidden Fur Baby Snacks. As a pet parent, it’s your job to keep your animals safe and healthy. But every dog manages to steal a piece of chocolate or two at some point. Have you ever wondered what to do when that happens? We’ll give you the rundown on how to help, when to call the vet, and (perhaps most important) what not to do when your dog eats chocolate.

A beige terrier reaches for a heart-shaped box of chocolates while a woman keeps it out of her dog's reach.

How much chocolate will kill a dog?

While chocolate is never safe for a dog, the fatal amount largely depends on your dog’s size, weight, and additional health factors. According to Pet Life Today‘s Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian, “The toxic components in chocolate are stimulants called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine.” Theobromine, the chemical component in chocolate that causes the bulk of its toxicity in dogs, may result in clinical symptoms such as the following:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart failure

Although theobromine is toxic for any dog, puppies, senior dogs, small breeds, and dogs with preexisting medical conditions have a greater chance of dying after eating chocolate. On average, a fatal dose of theobromine ranges from 100 to 500 milligrams per kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of body weight. That being said, some dogs can have severe reactions after consuming even a small amount of chocolate.

Toxicity levels vary widely

Dr. Angie Krause, another veterinarian, says, “Mild toxicity is seen at 9 mg of theobromine per pound of dog, and severe toxicity is seen at 18 mg theobromine per pound of dog.” Dark chocolate contains a much more concentrated amount of theobromine than milk or white chocolate, making it much more lethal to your pooch. And, as previously stated, chocolate is especially dangerous for small breeds.

For example, if your 5-pound Pomeranian eats a handful of dark chocolate, he’s at a greater risk of severe or fatal consequences than if your 100-pound Great Dane consumed the same amount. You can use this free calculator from PetMD to determine chocolate’s toxicity levels on your pooch. Puppy-proofing your home is essential when it comes to keeping dogs from eating toxic foods, cleaning products, and medications.

A brown dachshund stands on the kitchen counter eating a box of Valentine's chocolate from a red, heart-shaped box.

What to do when your dog eats chocolate

You come home from work to a sight you never wanted to find: your beloved pup surrounded by an empty, shredded chocolate wrapper. So, what should you do if your dog eats chocolate? Your first step, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), is contacting your veterinarian. If your dog requires help after hours, contact the 24/7 Animal Poison Control Center at (855) 764-7661 immediately.

Your vet may instruct you to bring your dog into the clinic for treatment. Unfortunately, there is no proven antidote to theobromine poisoning. Instead, supportive care measures are used to treat symptoms of toxicity. To ensure the best possible outcome, your vet will most likely attempt to empty your dog’s stomach by using emetics to induce vomiting. Thankfully, we have some good news. Dogs who receive prompt veterinary assistance generally have a good prognosis and don’t suffer any lasting side effects.

What not to do if your dog eats chocolate

Because it may take anywhere from two to 24 hours after ingestion for chocolate to impact your dog, you should never assume that your fur baby will recover without veterinary intervention simply because he isn’t displaying clinical symptoms right away.

Activated charcoal, a common home remedy for treating chocolate ingestion in dogs, should never be used without veterinary supervision. According to ASPCAPro, the diuretic effect of theobromine combined with the osmotic effect of activated charcoal may lead to a condition called hypernatremia. Hypernatremia is a potentially fatal condition caused by an imbalance of water and sodium, which can lead to cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), coma, and death.

Another home remedy is inducing vomiting with hydrogen peroxide. However, too much peroxide can actually worsen your dog’s symptoms. If there are no emergency clinics in your area, someone from the poison control helpline may instruct you to administer an emetic at home. You’ll want to follow their specific instructions and take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

A woman holds a bunny-shaped box of Easter chocolates while her fluffy, beige dog investigates.

Each year, chocolate makes the Top 10 list of reasons why pet parents contact poison control hotlines. To avoid potentially fatal consequences, you should always keep toxic foods, household cleaning items, medication (including vitamins and supplements), and pest control products under lock and key. If you suspect your dog has eaten something toxic, contact your vet or poison control immediately. Just because he isn’t displaying symptoms doesn’t mean he isn’t ill. When it comes to your pet’s health, a prompt response is always best.

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