You’ve probably heard that chocolate can kill your dog – but do you know why chocolate is poisonous, which types of chocolate are more harmful than others, the symptoms of chocolate poisoning and the one thing that’s more lethal than chocolate?
The following seven questions tell you all you need to know about chocolate and your dog.
Why is chocolate poisonous?
The cocoa tree contains two naturally occurring substances – theobromine and caffeine – both of which are toxic to dogs. Cocoa beans conatin theobromine a higher concentration than caffeine.
Dogs metabolise theobromine very slowly – it can stay in your dog’s bloodstream for up to 20 hours. During that time it interferes with the body’s functioning mainly stimulating the central nervous system and affecting the heart and kidneys.
What is the toxic level of theobromine?
The lethal dose for theobromine is between 100mg to 200mg per kg of bodyweight ; the lethal dose for caffeine is the same.
However, severe symptoms of theobromine poisoning may be evident at much lower doses .
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center, mild signs of poisoning occur in animals ingesting 20 mg of theobromine and caffeine per kg of bodyweight, severe signs are seen at 40-50 mg/kg, and seizures occur at 60 mg/kg.
How your dog reacts to swallowing chocolate will be a function of his size, general health, sensitivity to theobromine and caffeine, and the type and quantity of chocolate eaten.
How much theobromine and caffeine is there in chocolate?
The level of theobromine and caffeine in chocolate varies between the type of chocolate, the brand and the fact that the natural occurrence of these substances in cocoa beans is variable.
- White chocolate – 1.1 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate;
- Milk chocolate – 64 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate;
- Dark sweet chocolate – 150 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate;
- Instant cocoa powder – 151 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate;
- Unsweetened baking chocolate – 440 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate; and
- Dry coca powder – 808 mg of theobromine and caffeine per ounce of chocolate.
So how much chocolate can my dog eat?
White chocolate does not contain very much theobromine and caffeine, and your dog would need to eat a very large quantity before he would be at risk from theobromine poisoning.
If we look at a 10lb (4.5kg) dog such as a Yorkshire Terrier and a 70lb (32kg) dog like a Labrador Retriever, the following amounts of chocolate would be considered lethal doses (if we take 100mg/kg as the lethal dose):
For the Yorkshire Terrier – approximately 7oz of milk chocolate or 3oz of instant cocoa powder, or 1oz of unsweetened baking chocolate or just over half an ounce of dry cocoa powder.
For the Labrador Retriever – approximately 3lbs of milk chocolate or 1.3lbs of instant cocoa powder or 7oz unsweetened baking chocolate or 4oz of cocoa powder.
These are approximate amounts only, but do show how lethal dark chocolate is compared to milk chocolate, and how small dogs are more at risk than large dogs.
Dogs get a taste for chocolate – they find the flavor of theobromine addictive. Even if your dog can eat small amounts of chocolate without any ill effect, don’t give him a taste for it because he’ll then try to sniff out and eat chocolate at every opportunity.
If you really want your dog to eat something that’s like chocolate, you can always use carob which is a good alternative; here a link to a recipe for carob biscotti which your dog with love just as much as chocolate biscotti!
What are the signs of poisoning?
The symptoms of theobromine poisoning generally show within four to twenty four hours of your dog having eaten the chocolate.
The early symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, increased urination and restlessness .
As time goes on, and your dog absorbs more theobromine into his system, symptoms such as lack of co-ordination, muscle twitching, hyperactivity, increased heart rate and raised blood pressure will be evident .
These can lead on to seizures, coma, heart arrhythmia, hyperthermia, and ultimately death .
Even if your dog eats a small amount of chocolate, he may show signs of vomiting and diarrhea due to the high fat and sugar content of the chocolate.
What do I do if my dog’s eaten chocolate?
The first thing you should do is to call your vet and describe the symptoms your dog is showing (if any) and the type and quantity of chocolate your dog has, or you think he has, eaten.
Your vet will need to treat your dog, but may advise you to make your dog vomit before bringing him to the surgery. This will reduce the amount of theobromine that’s in your dog’s body that he can absorb.
Most dogs recover within 24 to 72 hours of treatment by their vet .
Does this mean that cocoa mulch is toxic too?
Yes, cocoa bean shell mulch is very toxic to dogs – there is approximately 255 mg of theobromine per ounce of mulch.
For a lethal dose of cocoa mulch our 10lb (4.5kg) Yorkshire Terrier needs to ingest just under 2ozs (368g), and our 70lb Labrador Retriever just 13ozs (368g).
Dogs are attracted to cocoa mulch as it has a sweet smell. As your dog explores things of interest with his mouth, and being an indiscriminate eater, he could easily swallow a couple of mouthfuls whilst he’s investigating where that lovely cocoa smell is coming from.
It’s not easy to notice that your dog has swallowed cocoa mulch – you’re not likely to spot a pound of mulch missing from the garden. Most deaths from theobromine toxicity are from the ingestion of coca mulch because owners aren’t aware their dog’s eaten it. By the time the symptoms show the dog has often suffered too much internal damage to be saved .