21 Jan Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs
Most people have probably heard about chocolate toxicity in dogs. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, a methylxanthine which dogs are not able to metabolise like us humans. In an ideal world, we do not recommend giving dogs ANY chocolate (unless it is dog friendly chocolate). Small amounts of chocolate can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea whilst larger amounts can cause restlessness, agitation, tremor, seizures and even death. Any amount of chocolate can also cause pancreatitis in dogs, particularly in those breeds that are more susceptible to this condition such as the miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle and the cocker spaniel.
So how much chocolate is likely to cause harm to your dog?
Dogs are indiscriminate eaters and unfortunately seem to love the sweet taste of chocolate. The degree of chocolate toxicity in dogs depends on the type of chocolate ingested. White chocolate contains negligible amounts of methylxanthines and whilst it may cause gastrointestinal upset (and possibly pancreatitis), other signs are not expected.
Milk chocolate contains theobromine but in low concentrations. Dogs need to eat a significant amount of milk chocolate to develop serious toxicity, the exact amount will depend on the size of your dog. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of theobromine and dogs can become unwell with ingestion of smaller quantities. Baking chocolate and cocoa powder is the most concerning, and dogs can be at risk of serious of even life-threating poisoning even from even small amounts.
A note on xylitol
Some chocolates, particularly those that are marked as sugar free or low carb may contain xylitol. Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs and can be life-threatening with small ingestions. Xylitol poisoning causes insulin release in dogs leading to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia). This can cause drowsiness, confusion, seizures and death if not rapidly treated. Those animals that survive the initial poisoning can go on to develop liver injury days later.
What about the packaging?
Some dogs get so excited when coming across chocolate, that they also swallow the entire packaging or wrapping. Whilst the packaging will not be toxic, it can become stuck in the stomach or bowel resulting in an obstruction. This can be serious and, in some cases, requires surgery.
What about cats, can they eat chocolate?
Chocolate toxicity in cats is rare. This is however not because chocolate won’t poison a cat, but simply because they are more selective eaters. Cats are actually more sensitive to chocolate than dogs and can become poisoned from smaller amounts.
My dog has just eaten chocolate, what do I do?
If your dog has just eaten some chocolate, try to get an estimate of how much your dog may have ingested. We like to work off worst case scenario, and you should assume that any missing chocolate has gone down the hatch! Collect any packaging or wrappers that remain, as these may give some guidance as to what chocolate the dog has ingested and therefore how much methylxanthines they have consumed.
Armed with this information, call the Animal Poisons Centre on 1300 TOX PET (1300 869 738) for a tailored risk assessment and advice. In many cases, particularly with white or milk chocolate in larger dogs, we are able to advise that the animal can be observed at home. Where it is deemed that the amount of chocolate ingested is toxic, the Animal Poisons Centre will recommend immediate veterinary assessment even if the animal seems well.
Wrapping it up …
If you have pets in the house, check carefully to ensure that any chocolate or other sweets are stored in an area where they cannot access them. We are constantly amazed at how ingenious pets can be when it comes to getting themselves into trouble.
If your dog has eaten chocolate or any cocoa powder, or for more information on chocolate toxicity in dogs, please call the Animal Poisons Centre on 1300 TOX PET (1300 869 738) for tailored advice and recommendations. Our service is free for all pet owners.