Q: We received a lot of goodies over the holidays including cookies and candies. My dog, Hulk, keeps sniffing at them, and I am afraid that he will get hold of some chocolate and eat it. What will happen to him if he does, and what is it about chocolate anyway that makes it so bad for dogs?
A: I love all things chocolate, but chocolate can be very toxic to our furry friends in short order. Knowing what kind of chocolate, how much they ate and the weight of your pet are all critical facts in gauging how bad the toxicity is and how to go forward with treatment.
First, let’s go over the different types of chocolate and why they are dangerous.
Chocolate is made from dried cocoa beans from the cocoa plant. Those beans contain a group of substances called methylxanthines. Two substances in methylxanthines are the stimulants caffeine and theobromine.
These are dangerous compounds for pets. We don’t worry so much about the caffeine levels because they are low as we do about the theobromine levels.
There are different amounts of theobromine in different forms of household chocolate. Unsweetened or bakers chocolate is 100 percent cocoa and is more dangerous to pets. Semisweet chocolate has a little sugar added to it but is still toxic. Dark chocolate has even more sugar added, and its toxic effects are less severe. Adding milk and more sugar creates milk chocolate, which has more diluted levels of theobromine. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter and milk and sugar, so it has hardly any levels of theobromine in it at all.
Unfortunately, with the increasing amounts of sugar and milk in the chocolate products, the potential for theobromine toxicity goes down, but the potential for GI upset and pancreatitis goes up. So really there is no amount of chocolate in any form that can be safely given to a dog.
If Hulk would sneak and eat a whole box of chocolate, there will be clinical signs that you can see. Usually, those signs will appear in one to six hours. Mild signs include vomiting and diarrhea and restlessness.
Remember, theobromine acts as a stimulant in the body. More severe signs will be hyperactivity, inability to walk well, tremors, heart arrhythmias, seizures and even death in some cases.
An animal’s response to the toxicity is based on the amounts of theobromine in the chocolate they ingested compared to their body weight. As little as 9 milligrams of theobromine per pound of dog will yield mild signs, and 18 milligrams per pound of dog will result in severe signs.
To do some quick math, it would take only 90 milligrams of theobromine to cause clinical signs in a 10-pound dog and 180 milligrams to cause life-threatening signs. By comparison, 1 ounce of baking chocolate has 390 milligrams theobromine.
The first thing you would need to do as a Hulk owner, if he ate some goodies, is to get as much information about the chocolate he ingested as possible. The container or wrappers can be helpful, or even a Google search of the candy if it was store-bought.
Next, try to get an accurate weight on him at home and then call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435. They are staffed 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. There is a $65 fee they will charge your credit card. They will need all the information about your pet the chocolate to help calculate the amount of theobromine he ingested and how toxic that amount is for him. They are wonderful, and you can even get an app for your phone that contains all kinds of great information on chocolate toxicity, as well as other common household toxicities and dangers. It’s a great app for new puppy owners.
If the ASPCA does calculate that a toxic level of ingestion has occurred, then off you would need to go to the veterinarian. There, they will probably induce vomiting and start medications to help control any clinical signs. Fluids and cardiac monitoring will all be part of the process. It can take as long as four days after ingestion to clear the toxic substances completely from an animal’s body and get them on the road to a full recovery.
So I hope you keep a close eye on Hulk and put the chocolates out of his reach before he gives in to the delicious smell of all the holiday sweets. Here is a thought: You could be like our house, where the theory is if you all eat all the chocolate as soon as it arrives, then you never have to worry about the dogs getting into it! Can you see the T-shirt? Eat more chocolate and save more dogs! Happy holidays and good luck in 2019!