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If you eat a Hershey Bar, the worst thing you have to worry about is watching your waistline. But that same candy – even in relatively small amounts – can make a dog very sick. Make no mistake: chocolate is poison for pups.
When dogs eat chocolate, the repercussions can be extremely serious. In addition to its high fat content, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, two different types of stimulants that affect the central nervous system and heart muscle.
Symptoms of Poisoning
If your 50-pound dog happens to eat a single chocolate-chip cookie, they probably won’t show any serious symptoms. However, if your dog gobbles up an entire pan of brownies, vomiting and/or diarrhea may occur.
Once toxic levels are reached, the stimulants start to kick in. This is when matters become dire. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include: restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination, and/or excessive panting. If your pet isn’t treated promptly, a seizure and even death are a possibility.
How Much Chocolate Is Toxic?
The amount of chocolate that it takes to poison your pet depends on two factors – the type of chocolate eaten and your pet’s body weight. White chocolate only has trace amounts of stimulants, while baking chocolate and cocoa beans are stimulant rich.
Here is a list of the most common types of chocolate and the amount that is toxic for pets:
- White Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 45 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. Severe toxicity occurs when 90 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. This means that a 20-pound dog would need to ingest at least 55 pounds of white chocolate to cause nervous system-related symptoms. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 27 pounds to become symptomatic. White chocolate has very little real chocolate in it. Therefore, the levels of caffeine and theobromine are very low. Tremendous amounts of white chocolate would need to be ingested in order to cause toxic symptoms. Though it is highly unlikely that white chocolate ingestion will result in toxic neurological signs, severe gastrointestinal effects from a high fat food can occur when white chocolate is ingested.
- Milk Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. Severe signs occur when 2 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. This means that a little less than one pound of milk chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1/2 pound of milk chocolate for toxicity to occur.
- Semi-Sweet Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 1/3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. Severe signs occur when 1 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested. This means that as little as 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate can be toxic to the nervous system of a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate for toxicity to develop.
- Baking Chocolate. Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.1 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. Severe signs occur when 0.3 ounces per pound of body weight are ingested. Two small one-ounce squares of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 20-pound dog. A 10-pound cat would need to ingest 1 ounce of baking chocolate for toxicity to occur. This type of chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine, so very little baking chocolate needs to be ingested before signs of illness become apparent.
What to Do If Your Dog Has Eaten Chocolate
Chocolate is toxic to dogs. Even if your pet doesn’t eat enough chocolate to induce toxicity, the candy’s high fat content may cause vomiting or diarrhea if ingested at all. If that happens, watch your pet carefully. If the symptoms don’t clear up within eight hours, contact your veterinarian (if your pet is very small or young, call within four hours). Aside from toxicity issues, you don’t want your dog to dehydrate. Try to be as precise as you can about the type of chocolate your dog ate, how much was eaten, and approximately when it was eaten.
If your dog has eaten chocolate, the sooner you get help, the better. If you notice signs of toxicity, your dog has a good prognosis if treatment is given within four to six hours of ingestion. The effects of the chocolate can linger for 12 to 36 hours though, so your pet may require hospitalization.
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