With the festive season coming up we all have a few more treats lying around than usual and sometimes our pets take advantage of this and eat things that they shouldn’t! One of the most common things for dogs to eat is chocolate, which can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.
In this article we will talk about why chocolate is so bad for dogs, and what you should do if your dog manages to get hold of it, but please remember the best thing to do is keep it well out of your dog’s reach!
Why is chocolate toxic to dogs and what happens?
Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical which dogs can’t metabolize as well as humans can. If dogs eat chocolate then theobromine can build up and cause problems. Dogs with chocolate poisoning often show signs of:
• Vomiting and diarrhoea
• increased thirst and excessive urination
• panting or restlessness and hyperactivity
• A fast heart rate.
In severe cases chocolate can cause muscle tremors, seizures and even heart failure and death.
How much chocolate is toxic?
The amount of toxic theobromine depends on the type of chocolate. Dark or baking chocolate contains a lot more than normal milk chocolate, and white chocolate contains very little (but still doesn’t make a good treat for dogs with all that fat and sugar!). Items such as chocolate cake which contain a lot of cocoa powder can also be toxic. The size of the dog affects how much chocolate they can eat without serious risks to their health.
What should I do if my dog eats chocolate?
If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms listed above then call your vet straight away. Make sure you know how to contact your vet outside normal opening times. All vets provide 24/7 cover but it may not be at your usual practice. It is better to check now than in an emergency situation!
If you know or suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate but they aren’t showing any signs then call the Animal Poisons Line on 01202 509000. This is a 24 hour service provided by specialists, who will ask you questions about how big your dog is and what kind of chocolate they have eaten, and be able to work out if they have eaten a dangerous amount and need to go to the vets or if you can save yourself a trip! It costs £20-£30 depending on the time of your call.
If you go to see your vet shortly after your dog eats chocolate, they will most likely give your dog an injection to make them vomit and may give them some activated charcoal to prevent any toxins from being absorbed. Be warned, this can all be a messy process!
If your dog is showing signs of toxicity, has eaten a very large amount or it is too late to make them vomit then your vet may wish to hospitalise your pet for further treatment and monitoring. They can try to help control symptoms such as seizures and a fast and/or abnormal heart rate with medication, and give your pet fluids to reduce the risk of permanent kidney damage. At the point where your dog is showing these types of symptoms they are seriously ill and will need intensive treatment to help them to recover. Severe chocolate poisoning can be fatal, particularly in dogs with other health conditions.
Overall, chocolate poisoning in dogs is not only very dangerous for your pet, and very upsetting for you, but likely to be expensive as well, so please remember to prevent it by keeping chocolate and other goodies somewhere safe where your dog can’t reach them!
Sophie Aspinall MRCVS