“I’ve been told chocolate is really bad for dogs, but I’m not sure why exactly. My Beagle eats everything in the house, and I’m nervous he’s going to get his paws on some this Christmas. What do I do if he does?”

Sophie, Bristol

December is a wonderful month, full of chocolate advent calendars, colourful Quality Street, creamy Lindt teddies and delish Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. But yep – chocolate is just for humans, not for dogs. Shame, we’ll have to eat it all then.

We asked Jess, UK Lead Vet at FirstVet, why chocolate is so toxic to dogs, and here’s what she had to say:

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What makes chocolate poisonous to dogs?

Chocolate contains fat, sugar and caffeine, so it’s not the best thing to snaffle daily for humans, let alone doggos! But it’s not those ingredients which are poisonous to dogs.

The cocoa plant (Theobroma cacao) creates seeds which contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs.

When you roast the seeds from the cocoa plant, you create cocoa solids, which usually account for between 20 – 70% of any chocolate recipe. Cocoa solids are also present in cocoa powder and cocoa beans.  

What actually causes chocolate poisoning?

Whilst humans metabolise theobromine quickly, dogs absorb and metabolise it much slower (in about 10 hours). Because of this, it can build up to a toxic level in the bod.

Eating anything that contains cocoa can cause symptoms in dogs; the higher the proportion of cocoa, the greater the risk. Dark chocolate contains the highest amount of cocoa, and white chocolate contains the least.

White chocolate contains very little theobromine, therefore toxicity is unlikely, instead, your dog may develop an intestinal upset, from vomiting and diarrhoea, to pancreatitis. Milk chocolate toxicity lies on the scale between dark and white chocolate.

Susceptibility to chocolate toxicosis varies according to a dog’s individual sensitivity. As such, it can be hard to know which dogs may be badly affected by eating chocolate.

The approximate amount of theobromine that is fatal for dogs is between 100 and 250mg per kg of the dog’s body weight.

So, for example, if your dog weighs 10kg then eating 60-70g of dark or cooking chocolate could be fatal.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning

Onset of symptoms is generally within 24 hours; though it is usually within 4 hours and can take up to 72 hours.

  • Vomiting, sometimes with blood present
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tender abdomen: pacing, moving around more, not getting comfortable when lying down and generally looking uncomfortable, stretching repeatedly or moving oddly, whining, crying when their abdomen is touched
  • Restlessness, excitability and hyperactivity
  • Excess salivation
  • Drinking more
  • Uncoordinated or wobbly when standing up and walking
  • A change in their heart rate (up or down)

In severe cases, clinical signs can include:

  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Urinary incontinence, occasionally with blood in the urine
  • Convulsions or seizures

What you can do to help your dog avoid chocolate poisoning

  • Ummm don’t give your dog chocolate. Sorry, but we had to say it.
  • Keep chocolate well out of reach. While there are some dogs who will eat literally anything, other dogs who are not used to eating chocolate as a treat simply wont be bothered by it. FirstVet told us that they often speak to owners whose dog has eaten their way into wrapped presents or broken into a cupboard to reach the prize – so be diligent, especially at this time of year.
  • If you are baking, make sure that the cocoa is kept out of the way. Do not leave a chocolate cake to cool within the reach of naughty paws, as they are likely to help themselves! White chocolate should also be avoided. The main risk with this is that it can cause pancreatitis, as it is quite high in fat.
  • If you have green fingers, we would recommend avoiding using cocoa shell mulches in your garden. If you do, ensure that the whole area is securely fenced off.

Help: my dog ate some chocolate!!

If your dog has eaten anything containing cocoa, we recommend that you contact your vet or call one of FirstVet’s trusted vets immediately, even if they are not yet showing symptoms.

Keep as much of the wrapper as possible, or google the ingredients if your dog has eaten the wrapping as well.

You may already know how much your dog weighs. If not, try to find out; check your vaccination card as it might be written on there. If you have a set of scales at home, you can hold your dog in your arms and weigh you both together, then put your dog down, weigh yourself again and do the subtraction.

Treatment of chocolate poisoning

Your dog will have the best chance of a full recovery if they receive prompt intervention and treatment.

Treatment will depend on the amount they have eaten, the type of chocolate (the cocoa content) and what clinical signs they are showing.

If they are not showing symptoms, they have only eaten a small amount, or they have eaten it within the last 2 hours, your vet will likely give them medication to induce vomiting. They will follow this up with gastric toxin absorbents, to soak up any theobromine left in the intestinal tract.

However, if you suspect they have eaten a large amount of chocolate, your vet will follow the steps above and place them on intravenous fluids (a drip).

They are then likely to recommend a blood test to check liver and kidney function, and your dog may require medication to control their heart rate, blood pressure and prevent seizures.

Our friends at the PDSA have even more info available on their website – take a look to read more about chocolate poisoning.

Worried your doggo has eaten some chocolate?

You should consult a vet right away. If you’re with your pooch right now, you can give FirstVet a call and have a 15 minute video consultation with one of their lovely vets, or visit your local clinic.  

Who are FirstVet?

FirstVet is a digital vet service, which allows you to book a video call with one of their experienced UK vets at any time of day or night, instead of heading straight to the vet clinic.  

When you call you will get help and treatment and, if you need it, a referral to the nearest vet clinic. 

Consultations charged for on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you don’t need a subscription – just the app.  

Appointments are £20 during the day 9am-6pm, and £30 out of hours. There’s also a free text Q+A service via the app, where questions are answered by one of their vets within 48 hours.
You can sign up here.

Gudog would like to give a very big thank you to Jessica May, Lead UK Vet and Dr Emma Bower from FirstVet for the professional advice provided for this article.  

You can read our tips on having a safe Christmas with your dog, and find out what else you should avoid your doggo getting their paws on around the house too.

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