Everyone knows dogs can’t eat chocolate. But it happens. So if your dog eats chocolate, here’s what you need to know, what you need to do and when you need to call your vet.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Chocolate?
If you know your dog ate chocolate, don’t wait for symptoms to begin. It’s important to get it out of his system quickly.
There are 4 items you should always have in your first aid kit in case your dog eats chocolate:
- 3% Hydrogen peroxide
- Activated charcoal, food grade
- Bentonite clay, food grade
- 50 ml syringe (you can get them in packs of assorted sizes)
If you know for sure that your dog ate chocolate, stay calm. Here’s what you need to do …
Step 1: Figure Out How Much Your Dog Ate
First you need to gather some information. You need to know:
- When or how long ago he ate chocolate.
- How much chocolate he ate.
- What kind of chocolate he ate.
- How much your dog weighs.
Then use this chart to figure out how many mg per kg of bodyweight your dog ate.
If your dog ate a substantial amount according to the chart, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian. She’ll determine if you should induce vomiting or if she should. She’ll also decide if your dog needs activated charcoal. She has ways to make both processes easier.
If the amount is low and there are no symptoms, it means he didn’t eat much, or that he ate it recently. In this case, take the following steps.
Step 2: Make Your Dog Vomit
If your dog ate chocolate within an hour, get him to vomit. Use 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Mix it 1:1 with water. Use 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of the dog’s body weight. Use a maximum of 3 tablespoons for dogs who weigh more than 45 pounds.
Your dog needs to swallow the peroxide. Use a syringe to squirt it as far back into your dog’s throat as you can. Hold his mouth closed and rub under his chin and throat, or blow into his nose to get him to swallow. This is also the method I’ve used to get my dogs to swallow a pill. Wait 15 minutes and if he doesn’t vomit, give him another dose, but no more.
The sooner the theobromine gets removed from the body, the better your dog’s prognosis. If your dog ate the chocolate recently, you’ll see it when he vomits. That means it has not digested.
Step 3: Ask About Activated Charcoal
As a second measure, ask your vet if activated charcoal is appropriate for your dog’s situation. Activated charcoal will block absorption of theobromine into the body. But use caution. The APCC (ASPCA Poison Control Center) warns that it should only be used for high dose chocolate toxicity in dogs, because it may cause hypernatremia (high sodium levels, which can be risky).
Your vet will tell you how often to dose. The standard dose is 1 to 5g per kilogram of body weight depending on the amount of chocolate eaten. It’s best if you can start this within an hour of eating the chocolate. The APCC suggests sprinkling some on food, yogurt or baby food … anything to get him to lick it up.
Or give it mixed with water in a syringe. Squirt it in as you would for hydrogen peroxide. Give it a little bit at a time. Giving it by mouth is a last resort as he can choke and it can get into your dog’s lungs. If your dog has no signs of chocolate poisoning, add it to his water bowl.
Here are other toxins that activated charcoal can absorb:
Step 4: Give Bentonite Clay
You can use bentonite clay alongside activated charcoal or on its own. It’s used to remove toxins. Bentonite clay absorbs waste produced by cells in your dog’s body. It binds with toxins in the gut and absorbs toxins before they get processed by the liver and kidneys. It protects the gut lining from letting toxins through. In this way it can reduce your dog’s nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Bentonite clay isn’t digested so when it leaves the body, it takes the toxins with it. You can find it as a nutrition supplement at your health food store.
Add it directly to wet food. Do not feed from a metal bowl or use metal utensils to stir the clay. It will absorb metal from the utensil or bowl. Use a ceramic or glass bowl to feed and a plastic spoon to stir the clay into wet food to activate it.
- Less than 20 lbs 1/2 tsp
- 20-50 lbs 1 tsp
- 50-90 lbs. 1 Tbsp
- Greater than 90 lbs. 1-2 Tbsp
Make sure your dog has plenty of clean water always available. Clay is highly absorbable so you don’t want to cause any constipation issues. Also continue to watch for vomiting, diarrhea, thirst and restlessness.
So … now that you know what to do in an emergency when you know your dog ate chocolate, here’s some background on what it does to your dog.
Why Is Chocolate Toxic For Dogs?
Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines. These are caffeine and theobromine. For people, both chemicals are diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and a smooth muscle relaxant. But not for your dog. Dogs are too sensitive to these chemicals. And theobromine is the toxin that can make chocolate deadly to your dog.
Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of methylxanthines. The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the danger to your dog.
You can find an online chart to determine chocolate toxicity. But what does that mean? Let’s look at chocolate toxicity in more detail.
What Are The Signs Of Chocolate Poisoning?
Here are the effects of theobromine depending on the body weight of your dog.
- Stage 1: At 20+ mg of theobromine per kg of body weight, your dog may look agitated or be hyperactive. He may also drool excessively, vomit or have diarrhea, which may smell like chocolate. Be on the safe side: call your veterinarian. He will advise whether you should perform first aid or bring him in for treatment.
- Stage 2: At 40+ mg/kg your dog may show cardiac signs include racing heart rate, high blood pressure or even heart arrhythmias. Get your dog to a veterinarian.
- Stage 3: At 60+ mg/kg your dog will start to show neurologic signs including tremors, twitching and even seizures. Medical care is essential.
- Stage 4: At 200 mg/kg (approximately 100 mg/lb) is when death or serious complications can happen. Your dog will need to be in the hospital.
How much theobromine is toxic to your dog depends on the weight of your dog.
Theobromine has a long half-life. Half-life means the time it takes for the amount of a drug or toxin to reduce by half in the body. So it takes a while to leave the body. It can also be 6-12 hours before you see signs of poisoning. That’s several hours after your dog may have eaten chocolate.
Signs can last for days. During this time, the theobromine can get reabsorbed from the bladder and stay in the system.
Other signs you may see at any of the stages include …
- Increased thirst
- Excessive urination
In severe cases there may also be increased body temperature and reflex response, muscle stiffness and rapid breathing.
If your dog has any of these signs or if you have any doubt, go to the vet immediately. Treat this like any poison. Death can be a possibility.
How Much Chocolate Is Harmful?
For many dogs, especially larger dogs, eating small amounts of milk chocolate isn’t harmful. That’s because it’s more sugar than chocolate so theobromine is minimal. Here’s a simple breakdown of what can make a 10 or 50 lb dog sick.
Here’s the amount of theobromine a 10-pound (4.5 kg) dog would have to eat to experience the toxic effects at each stage of toxicity. Even the smallest amount of chocolate can be too much for a small dog! If you drop a hunk of unsweetened dark chocolate on the floor when baking it can be tragic.
If your 10 lb dog eats 90 mg of theobromine (equivalent to 5 chocolate chip cookies) he’ll experience Stage 1 effects of chocolate toxicity. He could become agitated or hyperactive. There will also be excessive drooling, vomiting and diarrhea.
This amount of theobromine is also equivalent to:
- 1 1/2 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1/9 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 1/4 of a square of unsweetened baking chocolate.
Stage 2 will begin if your dog eats 180 mg of theobromine or 9 chocolate chip cookies. You may notice his heart is racing or his blood pressure rising. This amount of theobromine is also equal to:
- 3 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1/4 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 1/2 of a square of unsweetened baking chocolate.
Stage 3 happens when your dog eats 270 mg of theobromine or 14 chocolate chip cookies. This is enough to cause tremors, twitching and even seizures. This amount of theobromine is equal to:
- 4 1/4 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1/3 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 1 1/4 square of unsweetened baking chocolate.
Stage 4 is when your dog eats 900 mg of theobromine or 45 chocolate chip cookies. This can lead to death or serious complications. This is also equal to:
- 14 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1 and 1/9 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 2 2/3 of a square of unsweetened baking chocolate.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much chocolate to make a small dog very sick. Even milk chocolate or a few chocolate chip cookies can be toxic to a small dog. Especially a chow hound that will take and eat anything.
In contrast, here’s what a 50-pound (22.5 kg) dog would have to eat to suffer those effects, from mild to tragic. This is at 20, 40, 60 and 200 mg of theobromine/kg.
For your 50-pound dog to enter Stage 1 of chocolate poisoning, he would have to eat 450 mg of theobromine. That’s equivalent to 22 chocolate chip cookies. Already you can see he’d have to find a pretty big stash. But it is possible.
Milk chocolate generally won’t pose much of a problem for larger dogs. But dark chocolate will.
This amount of theobromine is also equivalent to:
- 7 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1/2 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 1 1/3 square of unsweetened baking chocolate
Stage 2 will begin if your dog eats 900 mg of theobromine or 44 chocolate chip cookies. This amount of theobromine is equal to:
- 14 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 2 2/3 square of unsweetened baking chocolate.
Stage 3 happens when your dog eats 1350 mg of theobromine or 68 chocolate chip cookies. This amount of theobromine is equal to:
- 21 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 1 2/3 of a 100g dark chocolate bar of 85% cocoa, or
- 4 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate.
Stage 4 is when your dog eats 4500 mg of theobromine or 225 chocolate chip cookies. This is equal to:
- 70 Milk Chocolate Bars, or
- 5 1/2 100g dark chocolate bars of 85% cocoa, or
- 13 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate.
It doesn’t seem realistic that a dog would have access to so much chocolate. Or that eating 225 cookies is possible. But a few squares of baking chocolate is enough to give a 50-pound dog seizures. And that is a realistic possibility during holiday baking season. Some dogs don’t have an off switch and will eat and eat and eat.
How To Tell If Your Dog Ate Too Much Chocolate
The amount of chocolate your dog has to eat to get sick will depend on the type of chocolate. As a general rule, the darker the chocolate the sicker it will make your dog.
Dark Chocolate (70-85% cocoa) – 3.6 oz (101 g)
- 810 mg theobromine (225 mg/oz)
- 80.8 g caffeine (22 mg/oz)
Milk Chocolate – 1.55 oz (43 g)
- 64 mg theobromine
- 9 mg caffeine
White Chocolate – 1 oz
- 0.25 mg of theorbromine
- 0 mg of caffeine
Caution: Don’t start giving white chocolate as a treat! Dogs can get sick from all that fat and sugar.
Theobromine content also depends on whether the product is pure chocolate or if it has other ingredients. Here are the amounts of theobromine and caffeine present in some popular chocolate treats and baking products.
Serving Size: 1oz (28g)
- 110mg theobromine
- 14mg caffeine
Serving Size: 1oz (28g)
- 342mg theobromine
- 21mg caffeine
Serving Size: 1.48oz (42g)
- 48.7mg theobromine
- 5.9mg caffeine
Serving Size: 1.58oz (45g)
- 32.4mg theobromine
- 3.2g caffeine
Serving Size: 4oz (108g)
- 75.6mg theobromine
- 2.2mg caffeine
Serving Size: 3” Diameter (43g)
- 12.6 mg theobromine
- 0.6mg caffeine
Serving Size: – 2.25” Diameter (16g)
- 20.3 mg theobromine
- 2.6 mg caffeine
Why Carob Is Safer Than Chocolate
If your dog’s a food thief, consider using carob instead of chocolate! I had a colleague with a 12-pound dog. Not once, but twice, the dog stole a milk chocolate bar. Even though it was milk chocolate, they made a trip to the vet’s office … feeling like the worst dog owners because it happened twice. To be on the safe side, they switched to carob treats for themselves. Carob looks and tastes like chocolate and doesn’t contain theobromine. It’s even used in dog treats and baking.
How Long Does Chocolate Toxicity Last In Dogs?
If you acted quickly or obtained medical care, your dog won’t absorb as much theobromine. But it still takes time to leave the body, so recovery can be 1 to 3 days. If your dog was showing symptoms, he may be lethargic and have no appetite for a day or 2. If your dog showed no signs at all, you should watch him for a few days, just in case.
Caution With Sugar-Free Candy and Foods
The most dangerous treats a dog can get into are candy or gum containing xylitol. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener. And it’s not only used in candy and baking. It’s used in diabetic products, chocolate, sugar-free mints, chewable vitamins, toothpaste and oral-care products. That means keeping an eye on your toiletries as well as your snacks. Half a gram of xylitol per kilogram of body weight is all that’s needed to cause liver toxicity.
Related: Find out where Xylitol is hiding …
It doesn’t take much for a dog to get into something he shouldn’t. So it’s important to know how to recognize the dangers and to have a well-stocked first aid kit … just in case of an emergency.