Dangers of Chocolate

As Easter approaches, we all get a little excited to run to our baskets and find a nice big chocolate bunny, but we have to be careful that our four legged friends don’t partake in this sweet treat.

Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and the higher the chocolate content in the confection the more toxic.

First, a little history about how chocolate is made. Chocolate comes from cacao trees. The fruit of the cacao tree, called a cacao pod, is sweet but the seeds are bitter. The seeds are discarded in the natural setting, allowing new trees to grow. The seeds are also packed with theobromine and caffeine. Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder are all produced from the cacao seeds. Unsweetened (baking) chocolate is very high (50-60%) in chocolate content, followed by dark chocolate (35%) and milk chocolate (10%).

Why do we need to be so careful with chocolate around our pets? Both caffeine and theobromine produce similar effects, but the theobromine effects last much longer than the caffeine’s. The more chocolate there is in a treat, the more theobromine there is. This makes baking chocolate the worst for pets, followed by semisweet and dark chocolate, then milk chocolate, then last by chocolate flavored cakes or cookies.

Theobromine causes:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Racing heart rhythm progressing to abnormal rhythms
  • Death in severe cases

Toxic doses of theobromine are 9 mg per pound of the dog’s weight for mild signs, up to 18 mg per pound for severe signs. Milk chocolate contains 44 mg per ounce of theobromine, semisweet chocolate contains 150 mg per ounce, and baking chocolate contains 390 mg per ounce. White chocolate has virtually no theobromine and is only a problem because of its fat content.

Those calculations seem complex and they certainly can be. What it boils down to is that your veterinarian will need to know the type of chocolate and how many ounces were most likely consumed. If it is not clear how much chocolate was actually consumed, the largest possible amount should be determined based on how much of the dessert is missing. It takes nearly four days for the effects of chocolate to work its way out of a dog’s system. If the chocolate was only just eaten, it is possible to induce vomiting; otherwise, hospitalization and support are needed.

If you think your pet has ingested chocolate of any amount be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. And make sure to keep those Easter goodies out of reach!