Most pet owners will know that dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate. But did you know that different types of chocolate can be more dangerous than others? We’re going to look at the levels of risk and what steps you need to take after your pooch has eaten chocolate.

When it comes to dogs ingesting chocolate, the darker the chocolate, the darker the situation, but why? And what do you need to do about it?

Why is some chocolate more toxic to dogs?

Because dark chocolate has a higher amount of cocoa than white or milk chocolate, and cocoa contains substances called methylxanthines, which are natural stimulants present in other products too, such as coffee, tea and some drugs. 

Methylxanthines are metabolised by the liver and doses as low as 20mg of toxin per Kg of bodyweight can result in signs if toxicity. An example of this would be a 5 Kg dog ingesting five Lindor milk chocolate balls or only two dark chocolate balls. If the chocolates are covered with cocoa powder, then the risk of toxicity if even higher!

How dangerous is chocolate?

Check the table below to see how much methylxanthines does each type of chocolate contain, on average:

Chocolate typeMethylxanthines per 100g of chocolate
While4 mg
Milk220 mg
Dark530 mg
Cocoa powder2850 mg
Methylxanthines by chocolate type, and toxicity for dogs

Note that cocoa powder (and anything containing it) is especially toxic. And while we focus on the toxic element, there can be other effects. For example, white chocolate is unlikely to cause methylxanthine toxicity; but the high fat content can cause problems with the pancreas.

It may also be useful to take into account other toxic components. For example, chocolate-coated raisins may contain methylxanthines in the chocolate, plus the potential for raisin toxicity. And chocolate-coated coffee beans are very dangerous, containing very high levels of methylxanthine.

What should I expect if my dog eats chocolate?

In the first few hours, your dog may experience restlessness, hyperactivity and excitement. You may notice an increase in thirst and urination; sometimes urinary incontinence, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort and possible bloating. 

More serious signs follow a little later. These may include, but are not limited to fever, incoordination, rigidity, muscle tremors, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, respiratory failure and even coma or death.

Vetster option 01 (Blog)

What will happen when I take my dog to the vets?

The first thing your vet will do is gastric decontamination. An injection can be given to induce vomiting (emesis) and ensure that whatever is in the stomach, comes out! Ideally this should be performed within the first two hours after ingestion, but it is still worth doing it up to six hours post ingestion. 

In very severe cases, the stomach can be emptied under general anaesthesia, but this is rarely necessary if patients are conscious and vomiting can be induced safely. 

After inducing vomiting, your vet can prescribe activated charcoal to absorb any potential substances still present in your dog’s body. They may also suggest anti-sickness medication to help with nausea. These are not always needed and your vet will be able to advise you on what to look for after your consultation.

In some cases, hospitalisation and a blood test may be necessary for monitoring the liver, kidneys and electrolyte levels. 

Will my dog be ok?

The prognosis for chocolate intoxication in the short term is good if vomiting is induced in the first two hours after ingestion. Younger dogs are more sensitive to the effects of methylxanthines than older dogs. If seizures or cardiac complications develop, the prognosis is guarded.

After surviving the first 72 hours with no significant organ damage, the prognosis is good!

Wrap up

  • Chocolate ingestion is a medical emergency and a vet should be contacted as soon as possible!
  • Knowing how much and what type of chocolate your dog has ingested is useful in determining the prognosis.
  • If you have a puppy or small dog, or if your dog ingested chocolates covered in cocoa powder, there is a high chance that your dog ingested a toxic dose of methylxanthines.

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