Dogs and Chocolate: Why is chocolate toxic to dogs and what to do if your adorable dog steals and eats a box of chocs?

Today is World Chocolate Day – a good time for dog owners to remind themselves of the danger of the sweet treat getting into the wrong paws.
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One of the unexpected effects of the global pandemic – and the resulting series of lockdowns – was an increase in demand for puppies.

And the extent of that soaring in demand has been shown by the latest registrations statistics from the UK Kennel Club, up nearly 40 per cent from 250,649 in 2020 to 349,013 in 2021.

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With so many new dog owners, online pet insurance experts Animal Friends have teamed up with vet Kate Costaras, from Joii, to help both experience and first-time pet pup parents understand the dangers of the different types of chocolate and the key signs to look out for.

Here’s what she had to say:

What makes chocolate toxic to dogs?

It is quite commonly known that chocolate should never be fed to dogs, but what exactly makes chocolate poisonous to our furry friends?

Chocolate is made from cocoa, and within this cocoa is a chemical called theobromine. Dogs are unable to break down this chemical unlike humans, and the slower rate of metabolism can have drastic effects on their bodies.

Whilst all chocolate contains theobromine, the impact of ingestion depends on both your dog’s breed and weight and also the type and amount of chocolate. A toxic dose of theobromine could be as low as 20 mg per kg, so it is worth remembering that a small dog could be poisoned by a much smaller amount than a large dog.”

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The most common types of chocolate are milk, dark and white, but how do they weigh up when it comes to danger levels?

White chocolate

Containing no cocoa solids, you may wonder whether white chocolate is less harmful to dogs. Whilst it does contain less amounts of theobromine, it is still not safe to give to your dog.

White chocolate contains the least amount of theobromine of all the chocolate types, approximately 0.9 mg per 100g. However, other ingredients in white chocolate could prove fatal for your pup, including cocoa butter, butterfat and milk solids as well as a considerably higher concentration of sugar.

So, don’t be tempted to give your dog a piece of white chocolate as these other ingredients are toxic and could cause illness in your dog.

Milk chocolate

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The most popular type of chocolate, milk chocolate, should also be kept away from your dogs.

Classic milk chocolate will contain cocoa solids as well as cocoa butter and other ingredients such as milk and sugar. Whilst these work to water down the toxic theobromine, levels still typically range from 150 to 220 mg per 100g, meaning it still poses a serious threat to your dog and should be avoided at all costs.

Dark chocolate

With high levels of cocoa, dark chocolate can be lethal to dogs.

Cooking chocolate and dark chocolate contain the largest amounts of cocoa and have extremely high levels of theobromine. It is thought to range between 450 to a seriously high 1600 mg per 100g. This makes it extremely dangerous for dogs and possibly fatal, even if only a small portion is consumed.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs

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If you haven’t seen your dog eating chocolate it can actually take several hours for symptoms to appear. Typically, they can develop any time between 4 and 24 hours after consumption so it is important to spot them as soon as they occur.

Tell tale signs depend on the amount of theobromine ingested.

At lower does around 20 mg per kg, the usual symptoms include: hyperactivity or irritability, a sore and tender stomach, increased urination, vomiting and diarrhoea.

As the dosage increases, the symptoms will generally be more serious. At around 40 mg per kg, cardiac symptoms may present themselves.

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Look out for: rapid breathing, acing heart, heart arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems) and high blood pressure.

If your dog has consumed large quantities of chocolate, and around 60 mg per kg of theobromine, they may have neurological effects, such as: muscle tremors or twitching, seizures and being warm to touch.

Larger doses will be increasingly serious, with fatalities having been recorded around 200 mg per kg, or as a result of complications occurring from the other effects. This means acting fast is important.

What should you do if you suspect chocolate consumption?

If you know your dog has eaten chocolate, you should contact your vet immediately and not wait until signs and symptoms start to appear. If you are unaware of any consumption, but notice these symptoms start to present themselves, contact your vet.

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It is important to gauge roughly how much chocolate has likely been consumed as well as the type of chocolate, as this will help the vet understand the severity and how to treat the dog.

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