Why can’t dogs eat chocolate?

Posted by Argos, 9 June 2020, last updated 6 February 2023.

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs because it contains theobromine, a caffeine-like molecule that increases blood flow to the brain which is hard for dogs to process. Want to know more? Here is everything you need to know about why dogs can’t eat chocolate.

What happens if a dog eats chocolate?

Many of us are aware that chocolate can be harmful to dogs, what you may not be aware of, however, is the risk to your dog after consuming chocolate. When dogs eat chocolate, they can get sick and exhibit poisoning symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea, but the more chocolate that is consumed the more severe their symptoms can be.

Toxicity in chocolate starts at around twenty milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of body weight[1]. In a small dog weighing around five kilograms, a hundred kilograms of theobromine (around seventy grams of milk chocolate or twenty grams of dark chocolate) will likely cause problems. There are about twenty-five grams per square of a chocolate block, so that’s three squares of milk chocolate. Cocoa powder also contains higher levels of theobromine, with only 4 grams of cocoa powder containing 100 milligrams of theobromine.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs

If a dog consumes large amounts of theobromine, they could potentially face muscle tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeat and, in extreme cases, internal bleeding or heart attack. If you’re unsure if your dog is suffering from theobromine poisoning, it can initially be marked by severe hyperactivity.

You may also notice your furry friend showing signs such as restlessness, excitement, nervousness or even trembling.

selective focus photography of short-coated brown puppy facing right side

Can dogs die from eating chocolate?

Few dogs eat enough chocolate for it to be fatal, especially if they’re a bigger dog, but chocolate consumption can still be damaging even for the largest breed.

Chocolate poisoning typically affects the heart, central nervous system and kidneys. The severity of the effects varies by case, and while it may only leave some dogs with diarrhoea, others can end up with more severe long-term effects such as cardiovascular problems and seizures.

Since it’s hard to determine how much chocolate your dog has eaten and the potency of the cocoa it contains, you should take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect they have eaten chocolate.

How long does chocolate poisoning last in dogs?

Typically, your dog will vomit on their own after consuming chocolate. Ideally, this is done within the first two hours of consumption, but you shouldn’t wait to see obvious symptoms. It can take between six and twelve hours for symptoms to occur and early treatment will help your dog recover faster.

In more severe cases, symptoms of poisoning can last for up to seventy-two hours, so it’s important to always monitor what your dog eats and what they have access to as most dogs will eat just about anything.

close-up photo of white short-coated dog

What to do if your dog eats chocolate?

Take them to the vet. If you believe your dog may have consumed chocolate and is potentially suffering from theobromine poisoning, the usual treatment is to induce vomiting within the first two hours of ingestion and so time is of the essence.

In a worst-case scenario, your dog may require the administration of fluids and IV drugs to flush out any toxins, so taking them to the vet immediately is crucial to their recovery time.

How do I keep my dog safe over the festive periods?

Reports of dogs with chocolate poisoning increase dramatically around Christmas and Easter[2]. With an abundance of chocolate typically around at these times of the year, you may need to keep an extra close eye on your pooch to avoid any accidents.

Always avoid leaving chocolate treats in places that are easily accessible to your dog to keep them out of harm’s way, Also remind your guests (especially the younger ones) that chocolate is toxic to dogs and ensure it is kept out of reach.

We now know why dogs can’t eat chocolate, but to take care of their health it’s important to protect yourself from unexpected vet bills with Argos Pet Insurance provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc. Explore our dog insurance policies today.

[1] Peterson, Michael E., and Patricia A. Talcott. Small Animal Toxicology. W.B. Saunders, 2013.

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2017/12/21/chocolate-poisoning-risk-in-dogs-peaks-at-christmas-study-finds/#320077991bcf

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