How Serious Is The Risk?
Most dog owners know that chocolate can make their pets sick. But how serious is the risk? And what can we do if we suspect our pets have gotten into chocolate treats?
The reason chocolate is poisonous to dogs is because of a chemical compound called theobromine, related to caffeine and contained in the cocoa used to make chocolate. While theobromine causes humans to get a slight buzz from eating chocolate that lasts for a relatively short time, your dog’s body does not metabolize the chemical at the same rate. After 18 hours, half of the theobromine a dog ingests is still in his system creating problems.
Even small amounts of chocolate can cause diarrhea and vomiting in your dog. Toxic amounts can result in tremors, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, rapid heart rate, seizures, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest.
So what is a toxic amount of chocolate for your dog? That depends on the amount of cocoa the chocolate contains.
Unsweetened baker’s chocolate contains about 10 times the amount of theobromine found in milk chocolate and more than twice the amount found in semi-sweet chocolate. White chocolate that is made with little to no cocoa had very tiny amounts of the chemical.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is potentially lethal. And dark chocolate is potentially much worse. Merck reports that dogs have died having ingested as little as one-third of an ounce of dark chocolate per 2.2 pounds of body weight, and, at the least, have suffered serious toxic reactions.
This means that 20 ounces of milk chocolate, 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and only 2¼ ounces of baking chocolate can kill a 22-pound dog.
If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, you need to consider this an emergency and contact your veterinarian immediately. Your vet may suggest that you induce vomiting to keep as much theobromine as possible from entering your pet’s system — if your dog isn’t vomiting on its own. You can do this by giving a solution of one-to-one water to hydrogen peroxide down your pet’s throat, or having it swallow syrup of ipecac. If that is not an option, your veterinarian can induce vomiting in the clinic with a dose of intravenous morphine.
While there is no specific antidote for chocolate poisoning, your veterinarian will most likely want to place your dog on intravenous fluids along with drugs to protect the heart and limit any possible seizures. Getting immediate veterinary care can save your dog’s life.
**NOTE: The popular cocoa shell mulches used for landscaping can also pose a serious risk to dogs if ingested. Because manufacturers of the mulch are not required to warn customers of the potential danger to dogs, there is no way to know if the mulch you buy has had the theobromine removed.