How to Keep Chocolate Toxicity from Killing Your Dog

Last week, we talked about things that can hurt your dog during the holidays.  With the holidays fast approaching, your home probably has much more chocolate in the cupboards than normal, with more coming in just a few weeks.  Chocolate toxicity is a real danger to dogs, especially small breeds who don’t have enough body mass to metabolize the chocolate before it kills them.

Luckily, most times a dog eats chocolate, it’s both large enough to metabolize the chocolate safely (since it’s harder for small dogs to get on the counters or in the cupboard), and it’s diluted as milk chocolate.  I’m going to walk you through the steps to take if your dog does eat chocolate, and how serious the situation may become.

What happens when my dog eats chocolate?

Why Chocolate is Toxic

Chocolate toxicity is more accurately called theobromine poisoning.  Theobromine is a component of chocolate (and tea, cola, and acai berries), that humans metabolize quickly but dogs metabolize much slower.  Because it metabolizes slower, the chemical builds up quickly in a dog’s system and poisons it.

Symptoms of Chocolate Toxicity & Theobromine Poisoning

If your dog has eaten a large amount of chocolate, he may vomit it immediately or shortly after.  He will have diarrhea and increased urination.  In severe cases, the poisoning causes cardiac problems, seizures, and eventually death.


How Much Chocolate is Too Much

The real question, really.  Did my dog eat enough chocolate that I need the vet?

The answer: it depends.  If your dog is displaying any symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.  Dogs can be saved relatively easily if the veterinarian is involved in time.

  • Milk Chocolate:  This is the chocolate in most candy bars and cookies.  The dog can become dangerously ill from 0.5 to 2 ounces per pound of body weight.  A toy breed dog eating a bag of candy would become dangerously ill, while a Labrador would probably just vomit.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate:  That bag of chocolate chips you were planning on turning into cookies (or the whole batch of cookies)?  Dogs become ill at about one ounce per pound of body weight, so a bag of Hershey Kisses would make a 12 pound dog very ill, and a 24 pound dog would probably still need to see the vet.
  • Baking Chocolate or Dark Chocolate Bars:  Baking chocolate is incredibly potent.  Dogs become dangerously ill with as little as .1 ounce per pound of body weight.  One package of baking chocolate can easily kill a dog under 40 pounds and could make dogs up to twice that size severely ill.

Not only can the chocolate cause issues, but the little foil wrappers can cause intestinal distress as well (and “confetti poop.”)  Consider what the dog ate, as well.  The dog may have eaten chocolate chip cookies with a certain amount of chocolate, but he also ate all the sugar and butter in the cookies as well.  Alternately, your toy dog may have eaten a Snickers bar – but most of the bar is peanuts and nougat, and it is only coated in chocolate.

How do I save my dog from Chocolate Toxicity?

Should I Call the Vet?

If your dog is under 20 pounds and ate any chocolate larger than a fun-size candy bar, call the vet.  The vet will guide you on how much care your dog needs.  Your vet will use their experience and discretion in treating your pet.

If your dog ate baker’s chocolate – either the powder or a bar – call the vet immediately, no matter the size or constitution of your dog.  Baking chocolate is so incredibly potent, your dog could become incredibly ill in a short time, and quick treatment can help your dog.

How do I Make My Dog Vomit?

If you catch your dog in the act, you can compel him to vomit.  Protip: put your dog in the bathtub or outside before inducing vomit.

Before providing directions, I want to remind you of two things:

  1. Do this only under veterinary direction.  Your veterinarian will give you the best advice on treating your pet.
  2. Do not compel your dog to vomit for other poison without the express direction of your veterinarian.  Some toxic substances cause more harm coming back out and need to stay in the stomach.

According to PetMD, start with 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, which costs under $1 in most supermarkets.  You also want either a turkey baster or syringe with no needle.  As a reminder, this is a messy process, so throw on old clothes.

Give your dog 1 ml per pound of weight, up to 45 ml.  Your dog should vomit within 15 minutes.

Travel to the Vet

You just induced your dog to vomit, and now you’re on the way to the vet.  Bring enough towels to keep your car clean.  I prefer to swap them out as the dog vomits, so the dog doesn’t get the vomit all through the car.

Preventing Chocolate Toxicity

Obviously, preventing your dog from eating chocolate in the first place will save your family all this heartache (and the money at the vet’s.)  Keep chocolate out of your purse and off the counters.  Keep cookies in sealed containers in upper cabinets, and for the love of all things holy, keep baking chocolate on the top shelf.

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