Why Can’t Dogs Eat Chocolate (But We Can)?

Never, ever give chocolate to dogs! We dog owners have heard this rule time and time again, and so we dutifully heed the warnings by making sure that all chocolate products in our homes are carefully stored out of our dogs' reach. You've probably even read an article or two on why you shouldn't let your beloved pooch chow down on that rich, heavenly stuff that we humans crave so much. However, if you're like me, after some time you may have forgotten what you've read! So, since the holidays are approaching (and everyone knows that holidays mean copious amounts of baked goods), I thought that I'd refresh my memory as to why I should keep my chocolate chips, baking squares, and cocoa powder far away from my pup. If you'd also like a refresher on why chocolate is harmful to dogs and other animals but not to you (or if you're just learning why for the first time), I invite you to read on.

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Why Cocoa is a No-No
One word: theobromine. This stimulant found within chocolate is the toxic culprit, and it's not just dogs who are susceptible to theobromine's ill effects. Other animals (including cats) can also be harmed at certain doses. (Note that chocolate also contains another well known stimulant--caffeine, which is also bad for dogs, but we'll concentrate on theobromine which is the bigger threat in chocolate.) The effects of severe chocolate poisoning in dogs are as follows: diarrhea and increased urination (which leads to dehydration), restlessness, hyperactivity, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, internal bleeding, seizures, coma, and death. Though this is the worst case scenario, please understand that it doesn't take very much chocolate at all to make your dog ill.

All Chocolate Is Not Made Equal
We all know that there are many types of chocolate products out there on grocery shelves, but what's important for pet owners to know is that each type contains varying amounts of theobromine. Generally, the purer the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. That said, dark chocolate is ten times more toxic to dogs than milk chocolate. (Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't worry if your dog eats a milk chocolate bar or even a white chocolate bar which has very little theobromine. The high fat content in these human treats are also bad news for our pets.) Other products with very high theobromine levels is dark baking chocolate and cocoa powder. Also, keep in mind that the smaller the dog, the less chocolate it will take to make him sick. If you're ever in question as to whether your dog has eaten enough chocolate to cause him harm, it's always best to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary care.

But Why Can WE Eat Chocolate?
Though death by chocolate sounds like a better way to go than most, it's not a likely possibility for us. So why is it that we (lucky) humans can indulge in the stuff, but dogs can't? That's because our livers produce an enzyme that allows us to quickly metabolize theobromine into a harmless substance, which our bodies then expel right away. Animals don't have the ability to metabolize theobromine nearly as quickly as we do, which is where the problem comes in. In fact, many health experts believe that organic dark chocolate may have health benefits for us because of its high concentration of antioxidants and healthy fats (provided that no unhealthy fats and excessive amounts of sugar have been added to it). Of course, too much chocolate of any kind can wreak havoc on our bodies, so best enjoy it in moderation. Easier said than done, I know.

By Maya M.