Why Is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

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Chocolate is high in both fat and sugar. These substances are both metabolized poorly by dogs, and can cause GI upset, vomiting, and diarrhea, or a more serious illness called pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that results in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, and anorexia. Pancreatitis may need to be treated through inpatient therapy at a veterinary clinic, as severe pancreatitis is life-threatening.

Beyond the fat and sugar that are irritating to a dogs system, chocolate also contains two substances that are truly toxic to dogs: theobromine and caffeine. These are both part of the methylxanthine family of chemicals. These chemicals stimulate the cardiac and neurologic systems in the dog. Therefore, theobromine and caffeine toxicity leads to:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate that progresses to a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Death

The toxic effects of chocolate are dose-dependent, meaning that they vary depending on the amount of theobromine in the consumed product, the amount of the product that is ingested, and the size of the animal.

Different chocolate items contain varying amounts of actual cocoa, and this affects the amount of theobromine contained in these products. Unsweetened, baking chocolate contains the highest amount of theobromine, 390-450 mg per ounce, followed by dark chocolate, 150-200 mg per ounce, and then milk chocolate, 44-50 mg/ounce. White chocolate has a negligible amount of theobromine in it, but it often has higher fat and sugar levels.

The lethal dose of chocolate for a dog or cat is based on body weight.

If your dog has ingested a toxic substance like chocolate, please discuss the symptons and details with your veterinarian or if unavailable here’s some alternative contacts.

ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888)426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855)764-7661. There is a fee for these consultations, but time may be of the essence.

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