How Poisonous is Chocolate, Really?

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It’s a well-known fact: chocolate is poisonous for dogs. You should never feed your dog chocolate in any form. Got it. Right. Good.

But how much will do damage? If your Jack Russell snaffles a single chocolate chip, do you need to rush to the emergency vet and take out a loan on your house to have their stomach pumped? Or is there a scale?

Like all poisons, it’s a matter of degree. Some kinds of chocolate are worse than others, for example. And a larger dog can consume more without experiencing serious harm than a smaller dog. Also, a dog that already has other health issues may suffer more than an otherwise healthy dog. In short, under some circumstances, you absolutely need to get your dog to the vet, stat. But in others, you might not.

But how do you make that call?

We’re glad you asked.

What Makes Chocolate So Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate contains two substances that are harmful for dogs: caffeine and theobromine. The problem is that the human body can break down these chemicals, but dogs’ bodies can’t. But not all chocolate is created equal. Some kinds of chocolate, like pure, dark baking chocolate, contain more of these compounds. Other types, like white chocolate, contain very little.

Vet MD has a terrific list of common chocolate-containing products and their per-serving concentrations of theobromine and caffeine. You can check it out here.

How to Recognize Chocolate Poisoning

If you know your dog has eaten chocolate, don’t wait for symptoms. By the time symptoms start to occur, damage has already been done. But if you’re not sure if your dog has eaten chocolate or not, the symptoms of chocolate poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Breathing fast and hard
  • Fever/increased body temperature
  • Fast pulse
  • Increased reflexes
  • Seizures
  • Muscle rigidity

When to Go to the Vet

If you know your dog has eaten chocolate, and especially if he or she is experiencing symptoms, it’s important to get to the vet right away.

You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680.

The Finer Details

Pet MD is a repository of articles about pet health and pet care. Their articles are written by veterinarians, and approved by veterinarians. They also have a number of excellent tools, including a Dog Chocolate Toxicity Meter (you can find it here.)

How do you use the meter? Well, first, plug in your dog’s weight. Then enter the type of chocolate they’ve eaten. Finally, enter how much chocolate your dog has consumed. The tool will give you a risk analysis.

A 15-pound Jack Russell, for example, who has eaten 10 ounces of white chocolate (that’s about 1.25 cups) should be fine according to Pet MD. Still it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open for any symptoms.

On the other hand, if your 15-pound pup has eaten just two tablespoons of cocoa powder, it’s time to get to an emergency vet right away.

We wouldn’t, of course, recommend fiddling around with online tools and measurements if you know your dog has eaten something he or she shouldn’t have. But forewarned is forearmed. Use Pet MD’s tool to imagine different scenarios, and to get a feel for how much of what kind of chocolate is too much for your pup.

So Is Chocolate Really That Bad?

It certainly can be.

But, like most things, it’s a matter of degree. And having a sense of how much is too much for your dog can save time, money, suffering — and possibly a life.

Featured Image: CC0 via Max Pixel.

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