Chocolate intoxication in dogs

Eating chocolate can be very dangerous to dogs. Large amounts can cause damage to the heart and brain, possibly even death. If your dog ingests chocolate, speak to a vet immediately for further advice. 

Dogs tend to find chocolate as irresistible as most people, which unfortunately makes chocolate intoxication one of the most common forms of accidental poisoning in dogs. The severity of the problem depends on the size of the dog, the amount of chocolate eaten, and the percentage of cocoa solids in it. If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, try to stay calm and speak to a vet as soon as possible. It can be very helpful if you have any package or recipe information at hand.



What is chocolate intoxication in dogs?

The cocoa seed, used to make chocolate, contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine. The human body can quickly process and eliminate these substances, preventing them from causing harm. Dogs, however, struggle to achieve this and can become seriously ill if they ingest large amounts. A higher percentage of cocoa solids means more of the stimulants, so the risk is higher with:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Baking chocolate
  • Strong dark chocolate

Milk chocolate can still be dangerous for smaller dogs or if large amounts are ingested. As little as 14g of milk chocolate or 3.5g of dark chocolate per kg of body weight can be dangerous and require treatment.

Any type of chocolate, even white chocolate, can also cause serious digestive problems like pancreatitis.

Always speak to a vet straight away to assess if the amount ingested could be dangerous to your dog.

If treatment is necessary, it should be started as soon as possible to be more effective. If symptoms have already started, treatment is more difficult but is often still possible.

Very small amounts of chocolate are not likely to be dangerous, but it is still never a good idea to give chocolate to a dog.

Many chocolate products contain other ingredients that can be toxic for dogs as well, such as raisins, macadamia nuts, or xylitol. Speak to a vet if you’re unsure.


Symptoms of chocolate intoxication in dogs

Symptoms usually start 2-6 hours after ingestion, but it can take as long as 24 hours. They can last up to three days. You may see:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Drooling
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination or accidents in the house (sometimes even dribbling of urine)
  • Restlessness or excitability
  • Panting

Severe cases will have:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • High temperature
  • Heart problems (heart beating too fast or out of rhythm)



Dogs at higher risk for Chocolate Intoxication

All dogs can suffer from chocolate intoxication, but it’s much easier for small dogs to ingest enough to develop severe disease.

Dogs that have heart disease are at higher risk of developing serious heart problems after eating chocolate.

Dogs that have had pancreatitis before are at higher risk of developing it again after eating chocolate. This is not technically from intoxication but from the large amount of fat.

Some dogs are more susceptible than average to intoxication, but this seems to be different from dog to dog and hasn’t been associated with any particular breed.



Diagnosis of chocolate intoxication in dogs

Diagnosis is usually based on finding out about chocolate ingestion and the symptoms presented. Vomit will often smell a bit like chocolate.

Other stimulants, such as caffeine products and some drugs, can cause the same symptoms. Tests can be done on stomach contents and blood with special equipment, but this is rarely necessary and doesn’t usually change the treatment.


Vet treatment

Veterinary treatment of chocolate intoxication

  • The first and most important step in treating an intoxication is to stop the poison from getting into the blood and organs. If possible, the stomach should be emptied within the first 1-2 hours after having eaten the chocolate. This can be done with an injection or by pumping the stomach under anaesthesia.
  • The next step is to give activated charcoal, this will stick to the chocolate in the gut and prevent it from being digested. Large amounts are needed, so a high-strength veterinary product is best. This may be needed for up to three days.
  • Cases with symptoms will need to be hospitalised and put on a drip. This helps to eliminate the toxins from the body. The heart function will need to be monitored with an ECG. Medication to stabilise the heart may be required.
  • Muscle tremors and excitability will be treated with mild sedatives and muscle relaxants. If seizures develop, they will need to be treated with strong medications.

After 72 hours, all of the toxins will be eliminated from the body, and most cases will make a full recovery.

Home treatment

Home treatment of chocolate toxicity in dogs

When enough chocolate is ingested to cause problems, chocolate intoxication is a potentially life-threatening emergency and should be treated by a vet as soon as possible. Please consult with a vet straight away. Inducing vomiting at home should be avoided whenever possible. It is difficult to do and can waste precious time, and there is a significant risk of serious complications like aspiration pneumonia.


Prevention of chocolate intoxication in dogs

  • Dogs have an excellent sense of smell and can be very determined. Always keep chocolate products somewhere closed and out of reach of your dog.
  • Make sure everyone in the family knows chocolate is dangerous to dogs
  • Crate-training your dog can help make sure they have a safe and comfy place to rest while you’re away. It reduces the risk of them getting themselves into trouble.

Living with Chocolate Intoxication in Dogs

A serious case of chocolate intoxication can be a terrifying experience and need intensive treatment, but most dogs will make a full recovery once the toxin is out of their system and will be back to normal after a few days.


When to worry

When to worry about chocolate intoxication

Seek a vet in practice straight away if your dog has ingested a large amount of chocolate or develops any of the following symptoms:

  • Intense vomiting
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urination or accidents in the house (sometimes even dribbling of urine)
  • Restlessness or excitability
  • Panting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Joii can help if you want to:

  • discuss if the amount of chocolate your dog ingested needs treatment
  • know what to watch out for
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