Chocolate poisoning is common around the holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter—when lots of candy is available. All dogs are at risk for chocolate poisoning, but puppies get into chocolate most often because of their curious nature and their smaller size increases the risk of chocolate poisoning even if they consume a small quantity.
What Is Chocolate Poisoning?
Chocolate is made from the roasted seeds of cocoa plants and contains theobromine, a chemical related to caffeine. Dogs can't metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans; therefore, this compound becomes toxic to them. Consuming too much chocolate affects a dog's nervous and cardiovascular systems, causing hyperactive behavior and high heart rate, along with other signs.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
Poisoned pets may pass large amounts of urine due to the diuretic effect of the compound, which also relaxes bladder control. In addition, pups poisoned with chocolate will drool, act thirsty, and vomit and/or have bouts of diarrhea. Even if they didn't ingest life-threatening quantities of chocolate, diarrhea and vomiting can leave you with potty accidents to clean up.
Signs of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
- Abnormal heart rate
- Muscle spasms
Causes of Chocolate Poisoning
Chocolate poisoning occurs when a dog consumes chocolate. Dark or baker's chocolate contains far more theobromine than milk chocolate due to their higher concentrations of cocoa and are therefore far more dangerous; the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is. White chocolate is not toxic to dogs because, despite its name, it does not contain any cocoa. A good rule of thumb is for a 50 pound dog, an ounce of baker's chocolate is toxic, while nine ounces of milk chocolate is toxic. Understanding this rule means that a medium sized dog can consume small pieces of milk chocolate and not get sick; it's all about the amount of cocoa and the size of the dog.
If your dog or puppy has consumed chocolate, an emergency visit to the vet is critically important. There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning. Affected dogs are offered supportive treatment from the veterinarian to prevent further absorption of the poison and hasten elimination, along with symptomatic treatment.
If the animal has just been observed eating chocolate, the veterinarian may choose to induce vomiting. If time has passed since the ingestion, activated charcoal may be administered to help prevent additional absorption of the theobromine into the puppy's circulatory system. Signs of shock are addressed with fluid therapy and heart rate irregularities, vomiting, and diarrhea are each specifically treated with appropriate medications.
First Aid for Chocolate Poisoning
If you catch your puppy snacking on chocolate, induce vomiting as soon as you can to get rid of the poison. Even if you don’t see your pet consuming chocolate but find suspicious evidence such as chewed up candy wrappers, it’s a good idea to get your pet to vomit.
It can be dangerous to induce vomiting if the pup acts lethargic or it is otherwise dehydrated or sick. As long as the animal is alert, you can use induce vomiting with 3% hydrogen peroxide as follows:
- First, feed the pup a small meal. Having something of substance in the stomach also makes it much easier to induce vomiting.
- Give your pet 3% hydrogen peroxide, one to two teaspoons for every 10 pounds the pup weighs. Squirt to the back of the pet’s tongue with an eyedropper, needless syringe, or turkey baster. The taste and foaming prompt vomiting within five to ten minutes. If it doesn’t work the first time, you can repeat once. Do not repeatedly give multiple doses as this can result in uncontrollable vomiting.
- Never give your dog salt to induce vomiting.
- Call the veterinarian for further instructions after the pet has emptied his stomach. If you can’t induce vomiting after a couple of tries, prompt veterinary care is even more important.
How to Prevent Chocolate Poisoning
The best way to deal with chocolate toxicity is to prevent the problem from ever happening. Most dogs and puppies have a sweet tooth, so keep chocolate out of reach and be especially vigilant around the holidays. In addition, you can help to prevent chocolate poisoning with some common training methods.
- Crate train your dog so that it doesn't have access to treats left out overnight.
- Teach your dog to "leave it," so that you can control your pet's actions if you see it about to snack on chocolate.
- Talk with all adults in the house about maintaining a chocolate-free zone to keep pets healthy.
- Educate children to never give chocolate to the pets as a treat.