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My Dog Ate Chocolate. What Do I Do?

My Dog Ate Chocolate. What Do I Do?

Chocolate is such a tasty treat, especially around the holidays. When I bake cookies for my loved ones every year, I make sure to include at least one cookie recipe with chocolate in it. My family really enjoys receiving these, but the furry members of my family are not permitted to have even one bite, so I make special dog biscuits and cat treats just for them. 

I work hard to make sure that the treats for humans are kept in containers that are sealed tight and stored in my cupboards so that my dogs can’t access them. But what happens if someone drops a piece of cookie and a dog steals it? Or what happens if several dogs find an open container and decide to have an afternoon snack? In any case of chocolate ingestion, dog owners need to be concerned.     

Will Chocolate Hurt My Dog?

The short answer is yes, chocolate can be very poisonous to dogs. The main chemical compound in chocolate is called theobromine, which is the toxic component. The amount of theobromine present in chocolate depends on the type of chocolate, and bigger pieces of chocolate will have more theobromine in them.

White chocolate has the lowest amount of theobromine, followed by milk chocolate. Semi-sweet and dark chocolate or baker’s chocolate has the highest amounts of theobromine, whereas little as two ounces can be fatal to a small dog. Bigger dogs who ingest the same amount may have less severe clinical signs, and so the weight of your dog determines the amount of theobromine it could take to poison him.

Symptoms of chocolate consumption

Common Symptoms of Chocolate Consumption in Dogs

Theobromine is a kind of chemical compound known as a methylxanthine. Caffeine is another kind of methylxanthine, and humans can metabolize these compounds quickly with very few side effects. Dogs and cats cannot metabolize them very efficiently, so the slight increase in your heart rate after you drink caffeinated coffee is nothing compared to the effect on your dog’s heart rate.

Dogs who consume low levels of theobromine can develop signs of gastrointestinal upset like vomiting and diarrhea. Larger amounts cause excitation of the nervous system which results in agitation, hyperactivity, shaking, and panting.

Your dog’s heart rate will elevate, and he can also develop an abnormal heart rhythm.

His body temperature may increase, and you may observe him drinking and urinating more than normal. Severe toxicity can cause tremors, seizures, and even death in some cases.

What Do I Do If My Dog Ate Chocolate?

If your dog has eaten chocolate, then make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. Many vet’s offices keep chocolate information handy, i.e. how many ounces of certain types of chocolate contain mild, moderate, or severe amounts of theobromine. Depending on your dog’s size and the type and amount of chocolate consumed, you may be asked to monitor him for a gastrointestinal upset or you may be asked to help induce vomiting.

It is extremely helpful to have an estimate of how much chocolate your dog ingested. For example, if you found an empty candy bar wrapper, then it is helpful to tell your veterinarian how big the bar was, the brand name, and how much was left in the wrapper.

If your dog ate a tray of brownies, then try to remember how many were left out and, if you used a brownie mix, the brand of mix used. Any remaining chocolate in the area or in your dog’s mouth should be removed immediately.

If you cannot bring your dog to your vet’s office within the first two to three hours of chocolate ingestion, then call your vet, they may instruct you on how much hydrogen peroxide to give to your dog. Hydrogen peroxide is typically used for cleaning wounds, and so you may have some of this in your own medicine cabinet.

When hydrogen peroxide is given to dogs, it causes the release of oxygen bubbles in your dog’s stomach. The bubbles stretch his stomach and cause him to vomit. Fresh hydrogen peroxide is the most effective, so bottles that have been open for more than three months may not work as well. You must also make sure that the hydrogen peroxide is a 3% solution because higher concentrations can cause problems.

Brachycephalic breeds (like Bulldogs and Pugs) and dogs that are weak, seizing, or have heart disease should not be given hydrogen peroxide. If your dog doesn’t vomit within fifteen minutes, then you will need to bring him to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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What Will the Vet Do for My Dog?

Once your dog arrives, your veterinarian will induce vomiting right away. Some clinics use hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, but there are other methods available.

My personal favorite method is the placement of a tiny apomorphine tablet underneath a dog’s lower eyelid. The tablet quickly dissolves and then causes vomiting within the first few minutes. It is a highly effective method, and it is important to flush the eye with copious amounts of eyewash so that the tablet doesn’t hurt the dog’s eye.

If it has been more than three hours since your dog ate chocolate, or if he ingested large enough amounts of chocolate to cause moderate to severe toxicity, then your veterinarian may administer a pasty black-colored liquid known as activated charcoal. This liquid will coat the inside of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract to prevent the absorption of the theobromine into his bloodstream. However, if your dog is already showing signs of toxicity, then this step might be skipped.

Dogs with severe hyperactivity and panting may be given sedatives to help calm them. The sedatives may also help lower your dog’s heart rate, and if he is experiencing an abnormal heart rhythm, then anti-arrhythmia medications may be administered. Dogs with severe vomiting and diarrhea will need to receive intravenous and medication to help stop the vomiting. If your dog is experiencing seizures, then powerful sedatives and anti-seizure medications will be necessary.

Because dogs cannot metabolize theobromine the way that humans do, chocolate is toxic for dogs, and the severity of the toxic effects will depend on your dog’s weight plus the amount that he ingested. Early intervention is critical, and when in doubt, make sure to contact your veterinarian right away for advice on what to do. Help make sure that you keep your pets safe this holiday season by keeping the chocolate out of reach!

Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish DVM


Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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