CHOCOLATE is made with cocoa beans, and cocoa beans contain methylxanthine alkaloids in the form of theobromine and caffeinea, which are toxic to dogs.
Chocolate can also contain high amounts of fat, which can put your dog’s health in jeopardy as well.
How much is too much?
Different dogs react differently to the methylxanthines and reactions can vary according to the age, size and overall health of the dog. The smaller the dog, the smaller the dose needed to produce an effect. If your dog’s health is already weakened by other medical conditions, they are more susceptible. The same holds for older dogs.
Theobromine is present in differing amounts in chocolate: white chocolate has 1mg/oz, hot chocolate 12 mg/oz, milk chocolate 44-66mg/oz, semi-sweet chocolate 260mg/oz, dark chocolate 450mg/oz, while baking/bitter chocolate or cocoa powder varies as much as 150-600 mg/oz.
A potentially lethal dose in a 16-pound dog is only one pound of milk chocolate. Only two ounces of baking chocolate can cause serious problems in a 10-pound dog. People stop eating chocolate before getting to toxic levels, but dogs don’t.
Any dog who has eaten chocolate should be watched closely for symptoms, particularly smaller dogs, seniors and dogs with health problems. Symptoms may range from vomiting and diarrhoea to panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death in severe cases.
While white chocolate may not be as likely to cause poisoning as the high fat content of lighter chocolates, it could still lead to vomiting and diarrhoea and possibly the development of life-threatening pancreatitis.
What can I do if my dog has eaten chocolate?
Make note of the type of chocolate ingested and how much was eaten, if possible. Theobromine will stay in the bloodstream for between 14 and 20 hours. Phone your vet the minute you know the dog has eaten chocolate.
Are there any other products I should worry about?
Yes – hot cross buns. These delicious Easter favourites contain raisins which can be toxic to a dog, causing severe vomiting. Grapes can be toxic and the dried fruits tend to be even more harmful.
Cocoa mulch is not chocolate, but the two products have something in common. They both derive from the cocoa bean and they are both hazardous to your dog’s health.
Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production and are popular as mulch for landscaping. People like the colour and scent, and the fact that the mulch breaks down into an organic fertilizer. Some dogs are attracted to cocoa mulch and will eat it. The bean shells can contain from 0.2% to 3% theobromine (the toxin).
Eating cocoa mulch has four possible outcomes. The most common is vomiting, in 50% of cases. Next most common, in 33% of cases, is tremors (shaking), while 17% end up with tachycardia (rapid heart rate), hyperactivity or diarrhoea. The fourth outcome is no effect on the dog’s health at all and this is the result in 33% of cases.
To protect your dog, keep them away from the chocolates at Easter and watch out year-round for products made from the cocoa bean.
Keep all the Easter goodies out of your dog’s reach and tell the kids not to share with the dog.
DipCAPBT, RVN, 086 8624511
Qualified behaviourist and trainer; Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator