Most people know not to give their dog chocolate, but not many people are aware of just how dangerous chocolate is, nor what to look for if their dog is poisoned. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, both of which contribute to poisoning.
The lethal dose of theobromine in dogs is 100-150 mg per kilo (2.2 lbs) body-weight. Dark or cooking chocolate contains the most theobromine (1400mg per 100g), while milk chocolate contains 150 mg per 100 gm. Half of a 250 gm block of baking chocolate is enough to be dangerous to a 10 kg (or roughly 22 lb) dog.
Your dog will show symptoms of chocolate poisoning within 6-12 hours of eating it. Vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity are common. He may be extremely thirsty, and be wobbly on his feet. As the condition worsens, he then develops a rapid and irregular heart rate, panting, muscle spasms and seizures. The end result may be coma and death. Sometimes dogs may just die suddenly without any symptoms at all. This is thought to be because of a fatal irregularity of the heart rhythm.
Similar symptoms occur with coffee poisoning as theobromine is chemically very similar to caffeine; however coffee toxicity isn’t as common in dogs. Coffee may taste a bit bitter to be palatable to most dogs. The lethal dose of caffeine is around 150 mg per kilo (2.2 lbs) body-weight, with instant coffee containing approximately 60 mg per teaspoon.
If your dog has only eaten a small amount of chocolate, he may not need treatment, however do check with your veterinarian. Treatment is non-specific – your vet will make your dog vomit if he has eaten the chocolate in the last hour or so, and activated charcoal by mouth will slow any further absorption of theobromine in the gastrointestinal tract. Your dog will be given intravenous fluids to support his body, and may need sedatives to control any seizures or painful muscle spasms. Medication can also be given to control any irregular heart rhythm.
Whether or not a dog recovers from theobromine poisoning depends on how much he has eaten, and how severe the symptoms. It’s important to start treatment early to get the best possible outcome.
Prevention of chocolate poisoning is easy – eat all the chocolate yourself! Seriously though, keep chocolate out of reach of your dog. This is particularly important during holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. There is also theobromine in some garden mulches made from cocoa-bean hulls; and some dogs have become unwell after eating them. Although dogs don’t tend to eat mulch too often, it’s a good idea to fence off areas of the garden with cocoa-bean mulch to keep your dog away from it.
Harvey, A. Dr., BVSc (Hons). (2010). *Article primarily written by Dr. Audrey Harvey and re-printed with her permission.
Disclosure Note: This article only serves as a guide and is based on research from various sources, both online and in print, including article(s) written by DVMs, dog trainers, groomers, and/or other qualified experts. Please check with your DVM for any questions regarding the information provided in this article. Thank you.