Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor and it comes in many forms that your dog may get access to. Dogs are more likely to consume chocolate around holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day. If your dog hasn’t gotten into chocolate yet, you can be sure that there is a significant chance that they will. Prepare yourself for the day it happens and know what to do immediately after your dog has eaten chocolate.
Why chocolate bad for dogs
Chocolate is directly toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine, a chemical that is contained in the chocolate liquor component of chocolate. Chocolate liquor is the liquid that is extracted from the grinding of the hulled cacao bean. The more chocolate liquor there is in chocolate, the higher the theobromine and concentration of toxin. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which also plays a role in its toxicity.
Theobromine is readily absorbed following ingestion and is widely distributed throughout the body and it peaks within the blood at between 30 and 60 minutes after ingestion. This in combination with the caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and affects the way the body regulates calcium, leading to increased activity of body and heart muscle. The stimulation of the heart causes it to beat too fast and if not controlled it can compromise heart function and can lead to death.
Clinical signs after ingestion can include vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, accidental urination, increased breathing rate, increase heart rate, and convulsive seizures late in the clinical course.
What to do if your dog consumes chocolate
The first thing you should do is secure what is left of the chocolate and the packaging. You should collect information that a veterinarian will need to determine if your dog needs immediate veterinary emergency care. You will need to know your dog’s weight, the type of chocolate consumed (dark chocolate, cocoa powder/baking, unsweetened, semisweet, or milk chocolate), how long ago it was consumed, and the amount that was consumed. In general, baking chocolate and dark chocolate are much more toxic than milk chocolate.
With information in hand, you have three options. The first option is to go to a veterinary emergency hospital or your local vet right away. Expect to pay an office visit and emergency fee even if your dog does not need treatment. The second option is to call the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) for a consultation costing $65. The most cost-effective option is to go online to VetLIVE and have a licensed online vet calculate the amount of theobromine ingested and recommend a course of action for just $12.95. These online vets consult with pet owners about all diseases and conditions 24/7.
What treatment may include
Your dog’s treatment will depend on the veterinarian’s calculation to see if the amount of chocolate consumed by your dog warrants therapy. It takes approximately four days for the effects of chocolate to get out of your dog’s system. If the chocolate was only just eaten, it is possible to induce vomiting. If the chocolate had time to be absorbed, therapies can include, activated charcoal, cathartics, control of hyperactivity and seizures with drugs, control of a fast heart rate, treatment with drugs for low blood pressure, and bladder catheterization to prevent re-absorption of toxins from the urine.
Jed Schaible, VMD, MBA is a veterinarian and writer for several pet publications. Jed currently practices veterinary medicine in Pennsylvania with his wife, Laci, who is also a veterinarian.