Direct Line magazine

Chocolate poisoning in dogs: myth or reality?

Updated on: 7 December 2020

A dog on the floor after eating chocolate.

It's not uncommon to see dog owners throwing food off their plates and into the mouths of an eager pet. According to research, 54% of owners think overfeeding or giving treats is a way of showing love to their pets. But the food we eat can be surprisingly dangerous for dogs.

So what food can't we share with them? Chocolate is poisonous for dogs, but you still hear stories of a loveable Labrador or daft dachshund sniffing out and devouring a whole family's Easter egg stash. Only 1% of owners intentionally give human chocolate regularly to their dog, according to the 2019 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Is chocolate toxic for dogs?

No matter what you've heard, chocolate is toxic for your dog. That includes processed chocolates in the form of bars and boxes, as well as freshly-baked goods like brownies or cookies.

Dogs are sensitive to the chemical theobromine and can react poorly to it, but overall it comes down to the quantity and type of chocolate, as well as the size of your dog.

Here are the approximate amounts of theobromine in different types of chocolate:

Type Quantity of theobromine (per gram of chocolate)
Dark chocolate 5.5mg
Cooking chocolate 16mg
Milk chocolate 2.4mg
White chocolate 0.01mg
Source: The Veterinary Expert

Dogs don't break down theobromine in their digestive system the same way we do, which makes them sensitive to the effects of this chemical. As a general rule of thumb, the more cocoa solids in a chocolate product, the more theobromine there is, as it comes from cocoa beans.

That said, theobromine in chocolate isn't the only risk for dogs. Chocolate is full of fat and sugar which can cause pancreatitis; a fatal condition if left untreated.

Signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs

If your dog has eaten even a small amount of chocolate, watch out for these signs:

  • Agitation
  • Out-of-character hyperactivity
  • A sore stomach area
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Drinking more than usual

There are more serious symptoms if your dog has eaten a lot of theobromine. These include:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Tremors, twitching or seizures
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Panting quickly
  • Feels warm

What to do if you think your dog has eaten chocolate

If there's a possibility your dog has eaten chocolate, keep an eye out for the symptoms above. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning will usually show within six to 12 hours, but could appear within one hour. If you know your dog has eaten chocolate, act immediately and don't wait for the signs to appear.

We always recommend seeking veterinary advice if you have any concerns about the health of your pets. Take the following steps:

  1. Try and find the packaging. This will tell you how much and what kind of chocolate they've eaten. All these details can be passed on to vets.
  2. Use the PawSquad service. If you're a Direct Line pet insurance customer you'll have 24/7 access to a vet via PawSquad with live chat or video calling. You can use the service for free, from the comfort of your own home and get your questions directly answered by a vet.
  3. Call your vet. If you don't have access to PawSquad then it's a good idea to call your veterinary practice. To help advise you, they'll want to know what your dog has eaten, the quantity of it, how long ago they ate it and if they show any symptoms.
  4. Follow advice. It's common that a vet will want to see your dog. Watching and waiting for symptoms to appear can be dangerous. When it comes to flushing out toxins, sooner rather than later is the best approach.

How are dogs treated for chocolate poisoning?

In most cases, a vet will give a dog medication to make them vomit the chocolate they've eaten. Activated charcoal may also be given to absorb the rest of the theobromine and reduce the amount of toxins that get into the bloodstream.

Charcoal can be given every four to six hours, so it's possible your dog will spend the day or night at the vets so they can be monitored. Your dog may also be given a drip to help stabilise the circulation of blood and fluids, and get rid of toxins. Other medications might be given if your dog has a fast or abnormal heart rate.

It can be frightening as an owner if your dog is having tremors or a seizure. A vet will be able to act quickly to treat all signs of poisoning. Generally, with prompt treatment, dogs that have eaten chocolate are back to their usual selves within a day or two.

How to prevent your dog stealing food

The smell of something tasty can tempt even the most well-behaved dogs. Here are some helpful tips to prevent your dog getting hold of food that's not for them:

  • Keep food locked away. Whether it's up high or behind a cupboard door, all food should be kept out of your pet's reach. Most dogs have been taught to stay off kitchen surfaces, but they can be crafty when food is up for grabs.
  • Secure your bins. A dog won't hesitate before rummaging through your bins. Ensure any bins in the home or garden can't be accessed or easily knocked over. For more persistent pets, choose a bin with a secure lid.
  • Remind guests. Not all visitors to your home will be familiar with dogs. They can leave food within reach without thinking about it or feed your dog directly from their hands, not realising this could be harmful to your pet.
  • Be vigilant around Christmas and Easter. Dogs can make light work of wrapped or boxed chocolate left lying around, and the last thing you want during the holiday season is a trip to the vets. Take extra care to put anything edible in a secure place, as Christmas and Easter are high-risk times for chocolate poisoning in dogs:

Other toxic foods

Unfortunately, chocolate isn't the only food dangerous to dogs. We should be wary about giving our pets the same food we eat. The following foods can be poisonous:

  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Onions, garlic and chives
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener, sometimes found in peanut butter)
  • Corn on the cob
  • Avocado
  • Cooked bones

Source: Battersea

Foods high in fat and sugars shouldn't be given to dogs, even as a treat. Processed foods can contain additional chemicals or ingredients and even foods we would consider “healthy” such as grapes are 

Direct Line dog insurance could help pay for veterinary care should your dog get sick.

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