December 23rd
Common Pet Poisons – Chocolate Holidays

The passage of time in any veterinary clinic can be can be measured by seasons of risk and prevention. For example, small animal veterinarians prepare for many seasons including springtime parasites and autumn allergies. Shelter veterinarians prepare for arrival of kitten season in late winter, a time of both cuteness and worry. Holidays are celebrated with food and inevitably result in calls to veterinary clinics from worried owners. “My dog just ate chocolate” is a common concern at this time of year.

Why is chocolate so dangerous for our pets? Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which is toxic to dogs and cats. Discussions about toxicity tend to focus more on dogs, as cats tend to avoid foods that they should not eat (cats eating plants, string, thread and hair elastics are topics for another blog). Theobromine is very similar to caffeine and pets metabolize it much more slowly than humans. The toxic effects are dose dependent and a small amount of chocolate is more dangerous to a cat or toy breed dog than a large breed dog. 

All chocolate ingestion by dogs or cats is treated as an emergency until exposure can be determined by a veterinarian. Theobromine levels are different between various types of chocolate. Dark gourmet or baking chocolate is the most dangerous as it contains the highest concentration of theobromine per gram. Milk chocolate and white chocolate contain less theobromine per gram but are still potentially dangerous if consumed. Foods that contain chocolate are to be avoided and include candy-coated chocolate, chocolate chip cookies and foods containing cocoa powder.

For many large dogs, ingesting a very small amount of milk or white chocolate is not likely to be harmful but be sure to report any ingestion to your veterinary clinic. Clinical signs of mild chocolate toxicity may include vomiting or diarrhea requiring veterinary attention. Ingestion of highly toxic amounts of dark or baking chocolate can produce muscle tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeat and even death.

If you suspect that your pet has eaten chocolate please contact your veterinarian immediately. If you know the time of ingestion as well as the type of chocolate ingested, this information will help your clinic provide you with the most accurate recommendations.

By: Dr. Sarah Thompson