Your dog just discovered (and devoured) your secret chocolate stash. You’ve heard time and again chocolate is harmful — even poisonous — to dogs. Now you’re worried as you stare down at your pup. One recurring thought races through your mind: “My dog ate chocolate. What now?”
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- Why is chocolate dangerous?
It’s no myth that chocolate can be harmful to your faithful friend. “Chocolate contains two substances that are toxic to dogs: caffeine and theobromine,” says Dr. Ed Blach, chief medical officer and co-founder of Vet24seven. He explains that because caffeine is a stimulant, when your dog ingests it, his heart could race or he could have a seizure. Theobromine, an alkaloid present in cocoa beans, acts as a diuretic, stimulant and even a relaxant for people, but it’s highly toxic to dogs.
- What are the common symptoms?
You might have caught your dog in the act or you might deduce she was a chocolate bandit by the crumbs she left all over the floor. But there are other ways to tell whether your pooch ate chocolate. Some dogs show symptoms — Dr. Blach says to watch for extreme thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle rigidity, agitation, hyperactive behavior, excessive panting, pacing and seizures.
- Is a trip to the vet always necessary?
If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, call your vet right away. “Describe the amount of chocolate, the type of chocolate, and the timing,” says Dr. Denise Petryk, the director of veterinary services at Trupanion. Your vet can then tell you what to do. “If your veterinarian confirms chocolate toxicity, they will most likely induce vomiting or administer activated charcoal,” says Dr. Blach. Those methods will get the toxins out of your dog.
- What if my dog ate chocolate but seems fine?
Some dogs can eat chocolate and then appear perfectly fine. “If a dog ingests chocolate and does not show clinical signs, it’s simply because they did not ingest an amount of methlyzanthines [the active ingredients in caffeine] high enough to cross the toxic threshold,” says Dr. Chad Harris, chief of staff at North Austin Animal Hospital. But keep in mind that all chocolate is harmful to dogs, and you should check with your vet regardless of how your dog acts. The more chocolate your dog eats, the more likely he will need treatment.
- Does the type of chocolate matter?
There’s chocolate and then there’s chocolate, meaning that “different kinds of chocolates contain varying degrees of theobromine,” says Dr. Blach. The rule of thumb, he says, is the darker the chocolate, the greater the danger. White chocolate and milk chocolate, for example, contain less theobromine compared with dark chocolate. Baking chocolate has quite a bit of theobromine and cocoa powder has the most of all.
- Does the size of my dog matter?
The size of your dog plays a role in whether your dog shows symptoms. “A small amount of milk chocolate candies will typically not harm your Great Dane,” says Dr. Petryk. But if your Yorkie ate that rich, dark chocolate bar you were saving for after dinner, or if your beagle lapped up all the cocoa powder you spilled on the floor during your cupcake baking session, your dog could suffer some serious problems.
“Chocolate toxicity is determined by the weight of the dog and how much chocolate was ingested,” says Dr. Harris. It’s always a good idea to check with your vet after a doggy chocolate episode.
Now instead of panicking and helplessly thinking “My dog ate chocolate!” you know what to do. Because most dogs will eat anything, help yours stay safe (and your stash stocked) by keeping your chocolates out of reach and have a pet sitter stop by to ward off destruction in your absence and catch any harmful behaviors sooner.
Laura Agadoni is a pet writer and pet owner whose articles appear in various publications, such as The Daily Puppy, Pets on mom.me, the nest, Tom’s of Maine, The Penny Hoarder and Trulia.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.
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