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How toxic is chocolate for pets, really?

By Dr. WittkeDecember 26th, 2011

Now is the season for chocolate poisoning in dogs.

We have all heard that chocolate is toxic to our canine companions, but how toxic is it really? And what happens if it’s ingested? These questions are both frequently asked by our clients.

The actual toxic components of chocolate are called theobromines, a type of CNS stimulant. They stimulate the brain to a point that initially causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This is followed by vomiting/diarrhea, and then tremors or seizures. This can eventually lead to death.

Levels of Toxicity

The toxicity of chocolate for dogs depends greatly on the type of chocolate ingested.  The purer the chocolate (higher percentage of cocoa), the more toxic it is.  Chocolate products can be ordered as follows, from most toxic to least toxic:

  1. Cocoa powder (more toxic)
  2. Dark chocolate
  3. Semi-sweet chocolate
  4. Milk chocolate
  5. White chocolate (less toxic)

So, if your 85-pound German Shepherd eats a Hershey bar, it is not likely going to cause any problems. But if your 10-pound Chihuahua eats the same bar, some significant reaction may occur. It is important to call your veterinarian if your pet has eaten toxic doses of chocolate — especially the darker chocolates.

Treatment

Treatment for chocolate toxicity involves inducing vomiting if eaten within 2-4 hours, followed by administration of activated charcoal with cathartics to prevent further absorption and to help pass any residual chocolate through the GI tract faster. Hospitalization with IV fluid therapy for diuresis may also be indicated. In severely affected animals, a urinary catheter may be necessary to help prevent any absorption from the urine.

Image courtesy of ScienceDaily.com