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Dogs and Chocolate: Get the Facts

Most of us have heard that chocolate can make dogs sick. But how serious is the risk?
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Dogs and Chocolate: How Much is Too Much? continued...

That means:

  • A 9-pound dog could be expected to show symptoms of chocolate toxicity after eating 1 ounce of baking chocolate, 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or 9 ounces of milk chocolate.
  • A 27-pound dog might have such symptoms after eating 3 ounces of baking chocolate, 9 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and 27 ounces of milk chocolate.
  • A 63-pound dog might exhibit symptoms after eating 7 ounces of baking chocolate, 21 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or 63 ounces of milk chocolate.

“In 27 years of practice, I’ve seen two dogs die from eating chocolate,” says Fitzgerald, who appears regularly on Animal Planet’s hit show Emergency Vets. “Both were under 20 pounds, both were elderly and both ate baking chocolate in very large amounts.”

Although most people would not eat a 4-ounce bar of bitter-tasting baking chocolate, this is not true of dogs, he says.

“Dogs experience the world through tasting it, and they are gorgers,” he says. “Baking chocolate tastes good to them.”

Your Dog Ate Chocolate: Now What?

DeHaven, who owns Cumberland Animal Clinic in Smyrna, says she typically gets two to three calls a month from owners whose dogs have eaten chocolate.

When an owner calls, she asks how much and what kind of chocolate the dog has eaten and the dog’s weight.

“If a 60-pound golden retriever eats a bag of Hershey’s kisses, there isn’t too much to worry about,” she says. “The dog will probably have a stomachache, but not much else.”

After eating a potentially toxic dose of chocolate, dogs typically develop diarrhea and start vomiting.

If the dog isn't vomiting on its own, the vet may advise inducing vomiting immediately to keep as much theobromine as possible from entering the system.

One method is giving the dog a one-to-one solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. But DeHaven says that treatment is now discouraged because it can cause esophageal ulcers.

She recommends syrup of ipecac, which induces vomiting.

When a dog shows signs of hyperactivity and agitation or is having seizures, the faster you get it to the vet the better. But there is no specific antidote for chocolate poisoning.

Usually, after vomiting is induced, activated charcoal is given to help prevent the absorption of the remaining toxins. Fluids are typically given along with intravenous drugs to limit seizures and protect the heart.

Symptoms of theobromine poisoning generally occur within four to 24 hours after chocolate is consumed.

Cocoa Shell Mulch: A Little-Known Danger

Most people don’t realize it, but those increasingly popular cocoa shell mulches used for landscaping can also pose a serious risk to dogs in the same way that chocolate does.

Terry and Dawn Hall found out the hard way several years ago when their beloved 105-pound chocolate lab ‘Moose’ died after eating just eight ounces of cocoa shell mulch used to landscape their Minneapolis yard.

The death prompted the couple to contact Minnesota state senator Scott Dibble, who sponsored a bill to require cocoa mulch sellers to warn customers of the potential danger to dogs. His bill was approved by the Legislature, but vetoed by the governor.

“It is my understanding that theobromine can be removed from cocoa mulch pretty easily, and that some manufacturers do this and others do not,” Dibble tells WebMD. “But right now there is no way for the consumer to know if the mulch they are buying has been treated.”

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Reviewed on April 27, 2012
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