Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Everybody knows that chocolate is bad for dogs. While humans love this yummy treat, and usually digest it easily, dogs unfortunately cannot. If they ingest a large amount of chocolate, no matter whether they're a small dog or large dog, they could die from chocolate poisoning.

Image Credit: retales botijero/Moment/GettyImages

If your dog accidentally ate chocolate, knowing a few key facts is going to helpful when taking him in for medical treatment. Learning about why chocolate is toxic for your pup is the first step to ensuring he is healthy, even if he got his paws on some already.

Why chocolate is toxic for dogs

Chocolate is toxic for dogs for a few reasons. It's made of caffeine and theobromine, a chemical compound that's a bitter alkaloid from a cacao plant. Both of these components can rouse your dog's nervous system as well as speed up his heart rate, both of which are not good for your dog. Also, while humans can digest theobromine and process it quickly, dogs process it slowly, which means it reaches toxic levels inside of their bodies.

How sick your dog gets from consuming chocolate depends upon his weight, the type of chocolate he ate, and the amount of it he ate. The chocolate that is most toxic to dogs is cocoa powder, followed by unsweetened baker's chocolate, semisweet chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate.

White milk chocolate and white chocolate have the lowest levels of theobromine, therefore, they are the safest. But, that doesn't mean you should feed your dog white chocolate. It still has high levels of buttermilk, sugar, and fat in it, so it's going to upset your dog's stomach.

Image Credit: Frank Bean/UpperCut Images/GettyImages

Dogs have a feast or famine mentality, which means that if they find a chocolate bar or a bag of mini chocolates, they are going to eat the whole thing usually. This makes chocolate extra dangerous for dogs.

How much chocolate does it take to kill a dog?

Again, how much chocolate it takes to kill a dog is dependent upon the type and amount of chocolate and your dog's weight. For milk chocolate, 1 ounce per pound of the body weight of your pup is enough to kill him. If your 20-pound dog ate 1 pound of milk chocolate, you need to get him to the veterinarian right away.

If your dog ate sweet cacao, that's even worse. It takes just 0.3 ounces per pound of your dog's body weight to kill him; that's 1/3 pound if your dog weighs 20 pounds. With baking chocolate, 1 ounce per pound of your dog's body weight could kill him – that's 2 ounces if your dog weighs 20 pounds.

You can also use a toxicity calculator to see if you should be worried about how much your dog ate. You may know he ate a whole box of chocolates because you found it empty. Simply use the toxicity calculator to enter your dog's weight, as well as how much chocolate he ingested and the type of chocolate it was.

Note that even if your dog didn't eat a chocolate bar, other types of chocolate products including hot cocoa, chocolate powder, and chocolate cereal still contain theobromine and are bad for your dog.

Image Credit: Chatri Attanatwong/iStock/GettyImages

What to do if your dog eats chocolate

If your dog ingested chocolate, you should call your veterinarian right away, as well as call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-213-6680. Your veterinarian may tell you to simply watch your dog for signs of poisoning if he didn't eat too much chocolate. If he did eat a lot of chocolate, then you'll have to take him into the vet or an emergency vet if it's after-hours.

Your veterinarian may give your dog activated charcoal or try to induce vomiting if your dog consumed chocolate less than two hours prior. The charcoal would get the toxins of your dog's body before they could be absorbed into his bloodstream. Your vet may also give your dog medication or IV fluids.

Don't attempt to make your dog throw up or treat him at home. It's always best to leave a case of chocolate poisoning up to the professionals to handle. You could end up making your dog feel uncomfortable or hurting him even more.

What are the signs of chocolate poisoning?

If your dog only consumed a small amount of chocolate, he may have an upset stomach. He may have diarrhea or start vomiting. If your dog ate a large amount of chocolate, the theobromine could lead him to becoming very hyperactive. It could also cause seizures, muscle tremors, increased urination, collapsing, an irregular heartbeat, a heart attack, or internal bleeding.

Making sure your dog doesn’t get chocolate poisoning

It's understandable if sometimes, you or your kids leave food on the floor and your dog accidentally eats it up. While bits of chicken scraps, bread, and some fruits and veggies can fall on the floor, you need to be extra diligent when eating chocolate. If you're feeding your kids chocolate cereal or another chocolate treat, always be mindful to clean up the area afterwards to make sure your dog doesn't eat any of the leftovers.

Additionally, place chocolate on high shelves and in cabinets in tightly sealed containers, far away from your dog. This is especially important during holidays where a lot of chocolate might be around, such as Halloween, Valentine's Day, Easter, Chanukah, or Christmas.

You also need to train your dog to "take it" and "leave it." This will teach your dog when it's OK to eat something. All you have to do is get a dog-safe treat, put it in your fist, and let your dog try to get it. When your dog stops trying, give him praise, use a clicker, or say "yes." Then open your fist, say, "take it," and give your dog the treat. Your dog will learn that not fixating on the treat is how he earns it. Keep repeating this training method several times, and wait one or two seconds before saying "take it" to really engrain the command in his psyche.

Image Credit: Halfdark/fStop/GettyImages

To train your dog the "leave it" command, put a treat on the floor and cover it with your hand, and then let your dog try to get it. When he stops trying, say, "yes, " give him praise, or use a clicker. Then, give him another treat to reward him. The other treat should be better than the one on the floor to show that if he's patient, there is something better for him in store. Repeat this training technique several times.

When your dog leaves the treat alone willingly, remove your hand. Be ready to cover up that treat again, however, if he forgets what to do. If he looks away or isn't interested in the floor treat, again, give him a better one. In a real life scenario, before you drop your food on the floor when you're eating, say, "leave it," and your dog should do exactly as he's told.

Conclusion

Your dog should never eat chocolate. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs because of the caffeine and theobromine it contains. If he does eat chocolate, however, get him to a vet right away for evaluation. With some training and safety precautions in place, you can lower your chances of accidentally giving your dog chocolate, and ensure he stays happy and healthy for years to come.