Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs


One of the most common calls we get at the Manchester Veterinary Hospital about fear of a poison ingestion is the concern over a dog consuming chocolate.  For the most part, most are of the variety of a dog eating a chocolate chip cookie or other food containing some chocolate and it turns out not harmful.  However, it would be foolish to be cavalier about any chocolate consumption.

Most pet owners know that chocolate is bad for dogs and can cause significant problems for a dog; cats are usually too finicky to eat it.  But what signs of chocolate toxicity should you look for when you know your dog ate chocolate, and what would be the prudent thing to do?

The active ingredient in chocolate that causes problems with dogs is called theobromine, which is a distant cousin of caffeine. 

Some of the signs are caused by excitation to the nervous system, like a caffeine overdose.  Look for:

  • Nervousness/restlessness
  • Twitching
  • Panting
  • Seizures in severe cases

Just ingesting chocolate, which most dogs don’t typically eat every day, can cause an upset stomach.  In these cases, you can see:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of appetite

If you notice any symptoms after your dog eats chocolate, it's best to have them evaluated by a veterinarian or emergency clinic quickly.  The theobromine can also cause a dangerously rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, both of which may require treatment.  The toxicity of chocolate depends on how much a dog eats relative to his size and the type of chocolate consumed.  I recommend having a dog vomit as soon as possible.  Ingesting a small amount of hydrogen peroxide usually does the trick.

White chocolate contains trace levels of caffeine or theobromine and therefore does not pose the same type of toxicity danger to dogs.  However, dogs can still develop an upset stomach or diarrhea from the sugar, or worse, pancreatitis from the high fat content of white chocolate.

Milk chocolate does contain caffeine and theobromine and is more toxic than white chocolate, but less toxic than dark chocolate.

Baker’s chocolate contains the highest level of toxic compounds and is the most lethal of all.

Treatment of chocolate toxicity depends on the amount consumed, when it was consumed, the size of the dog and the severity of the signs.  If a large dog eats one chocolate Hershey’s Kiss, then it’s probably too low of a dose to be toxic, and it’s likely that no treatment is needed.  If a Chihuahua eats an ounce of dark chocolate, then it’s more likely to be toxic and treatment will be needed.  It is always best to consult your veterinarian in any case to be sure your pet is not at risk.

Treatment consists of detoxification and supportive care.  If the dog just ate chocolate, then your veterinarian will give him medication to make him vomit, administer activated charcoal to absorb any toxins left in the GI tract and then monitor for any clinical signs.  If the dog is already showing signs, then the dog will likely need hospitalization with supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, body temperature control, medication to control seizures and medication and/or monitoring for any heart abnormalities.

For larger, recent exposures, just getting your dog to vomit the chocolate is enough.  Your veterinarian or local emergency clinic can help you with this, so call them if your dog has ingested chocolate.  They can help you decide when, how, and where to induce vomiting and if further therapy is needed

Contacting a animal poison control center for guidance is always a good idea.

ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426 4435

Pet Poison Helpline: 800-213-6680

Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.

aspca national animal poison control center: 888-426 4435, pet poison helpline: 800-213-6680, lawrence lamb