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Chocolate poisoning in dogs

Chocolate poisoning in dogs

Health & Safety

While there are a wide range of potential toxins and foodstuffs around the home that are poisonous to dogs, one of the most readily available and easiest for your dog to inadvertently gain access to is chocolate. This makes chocolate particularly risky, especially around Christmas time, Easter, Halloween and any other holidays when chocolate seems to be almost everywhere you turn, or if your dog spends a lot of time around children or likes to scavenge or steal food.

While some dogs are much more sensitive to the toxic effects of chocolate than others, all dogs can potentially be prone to poisoning from chocolate ingestion. Almost every 24-hour veterinary hospital and inpatient clinic in the country will deal with at least one dog, and often several, that has inadvertently eaten or been fed chocolate around Easter time or at Christmas, a worry and expense that of course all dog owners will be keen to avoid.

If you want to make sure that you can avoid your dog becoming one of their number, read on to learn more about chocolate poisoning in dogs, what makes chocolate toxic to dogs, and how to deal with a potential case of chocolate poisoning.

Why is chocolate poisonous to dogs?

Chocolate contains an alkaloid ingredient called theobromine, which is also present in tea, coca cola, all products containing cocoa and some other foodstuffs too. The amount of theobromine varies greatly according to the type and quality of chocolate itself; rich, bitter high-quality dark chocolate contains much more of it than artificial chocolate flavoured candies and milk chocolate does. Humans naturally metabolise theobromine at a fast enough rate that its toxic properties are negated and not harmful, but dogs metabolise it much more slowly, leading to it effectively poisoning the dog that consumes it, if eaten in large enough quantities.

It is important to note that the husks and shells of cocoa beans can induce theobromine toxicity in dogs as well, as these products are often used in composting and the landscaping of gardens.

How high is the risk of poisoning for a dog that consumes chocolate?

What constitutes a large enough quantity of chocolate to prove toxic will again depend on the type of chocolate consumed, and the size, age and metabolic rate of the dog in question. It is not unheard of for a scavenging dog to eat an entire chocolate cake or several bars of chocolate and live to tell the tale without any adverse affects, while for other dogs, just a couple of small pieces of chocolate can be enough to cause a problem. Generally, the higher the cocoa content consumed and the smaller the dog in question will establish what constitutes a toxic dose, although there is no foolproof formula to establish this, as the metabolic rate of all dogs is of course different.

How to avoid your dog ingesting chocolate

Keeping your dog away from the sweet stuff is of course the best way to prevent chocolate poisoning in the first place, although this can be easier said than done! Dogs tend to be partial to sweet tastes (unlike cats, which do not have the ability to taste sweet flavours) and so dogs will generally be quite happy to eat any chocolate treats that are offered, or scavenge chocolate treats that are found or dropped.

  • Never give your dog chocolate treats or pieces of chocolate you are eating.
  • Make sure that your children and any visitors also obey this rule, and understand why it is in place.
  • Keep chocolate products out of your dog’s reach at all times; this means ensuring any chocolate treats on your Christmas tree are well out of your dog’s reach, and that you do not leave bars of chocolate lying around, or chocolate cakes cooling on the worktop unsupervised!
  • Ensure that all of your bins are dog proofed, and that your dog does not go scouting through the bin for leftovers and treats.
  • Supervise your dog outside of the house to make sure that they do not pick up food and other discarded treats in the street. If your dog is particularly prone to scavenging, you may want to consider muzzling them to keep them from grabbing and wolfing down unsuitable foodstuffs before you can stop them.

What to do if your dog eats chocolate

If you know that your dog has eaten chocolate or cocoa products or suspect that they might have done so, contact your vet for advice immediately. If you have a large dog that has only consumed a small amount of chocolate, your vet may simply advise monitoring them and taking no further action, although you should always check with your vet to see what they advise and not just assume that it will be ok.

If you catch your dog in the act and seek veterinary treatment promptly, the first course of action that your vet will undertake will probably be to induce vomiting in your dog, which must be performed within two hours of ingestion in order to prove effective, so again, act quickly. Do not attempt to induce vomiting in your dog at home without speaking to your vet.

Keep the wrappers and any remaining chocolate that your dog has eaten to take along to the vet, as this may help them to work out the cocoa content and potential risk of ingestion, as well as how much of the product your dog actually ate.

Treatment and prognosis

If your dog has consumed chocolate, your vet will generally recommend checking them into the surgery as an inpatient for monitoring to see if theobromine poisoning manifests, and to treat it as soon as it becomes symptomatic.

The early indications of chocolate poisoning in dogs usually manifest within a few hours of eating it, and can include sickness, nausea, diarrhoea and frequent urination. At the stage at which chocolate poisoning becomes symptomatic, it is usually too late to induce vomiting in order to prevent the onset of the toxicity, and so a range of reactive treatment methods will be employed instead.

This may include IV fluid therapy to replace lost fluids, and treatment with anti-arrhythmics if your dog shows signs of seizures or heart problems, as chocolate poisoning can cause seizures, arrhythmias and otherwise affect the internal organs.

While the long-term prognosis for dogs who have consumed chocolate varies greatly from case to case, treated promptly, chocolate poisoning can usually be avoided or resolved.

If you can get your dog to the vet promptly and in good time to induce vomiting, your dog will have the best chance of overall recovery and may be able to avoid toxicity in the first place. Even if you do not become aware of the problem until after the window in which it is possible to induce vomiting has passed, the sooner you can get your dog to the vet and begin monitoring, fluid therapy and reactive care, the better their chances of survival will be.