Chocolate is produced from the cacao plant and comes in a variety of forms including white, milk and dark chocolate, as well as other chocolate compounds such as cocoa powder which is used for baking. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, collectively known as methylxanthines which are responsible for chocolate’s toxic effects in animals. Unlike humans, many pets do not have the ability to effectively metabolise theobromine meaning that it remains in their body, sometimes reaching toxic levels.
Signs noted from chocolate toxicosis may include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst, increased urination, hyperactivity, tremor, increased heart rate, arrhythmias and possibly seizures. Small ingestions tend to result in gastrointestinal upset only, whereas large ingestions can cause changes to the heart rhythm and possibly seizures. Large ingestions can be life-threatening and pancreatitis may occur as a result of any amount of chocolate.
The toxic dose is dependent on many factors including the species of your pet, the size of your pet, the amount of chocolate ingested and the type of chocolate they have ingested. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain a much greater quantity of methylxanthines than milk chocolate. White chocolate contains negligible quantities of methylxanthine compounds. Due to their indiscriminate eating habits, dogs are far more likely than other pets to ingest a toxic dose of chocolate.
The Animal Poisons Helpline recommends that you do not feed any chocolate to your pets. If you suspect your pet has eaten chocolate, it is important to call the Animal Poisons Helpline immediately for an assessment even if your pet looks well. Our service is free for pet owners and can be reached on 1300 869 738 from Australia and 0800 869 738 from New Zealand.