The fat content of chocolate causes irritation to the gastrointestinal tract leading to vomiting and diarrhea. The caffeine and the theobromine affect the nervous system causing stimulation. This stimulation can be as mild as restlessness but can increase to muscle twitching, seizures and death.
There are four main types of chocolate that we see. All four types of chocolate have similar amounts of fat in them so they can all cause vomiting and diarrhea. The severe symptoms are caused by theobromine. Let’s review the levels of theobromine that are found in different chocolates.
White chocolate contains the least amount of theobromine. Actually, for the nervous system to be affected your pet has to ingest 45 ounces per pound! That translates to roughly 3 pounds of chocolate per pound of dog, so a 10 pound dog would have to eat 30 pounds of chocolate. It is impossible to eat this much of anything if your pet is that size.
Milk chocolate is probably the most common type that people have around the house. This is found in candy bars and different candies. Mild nervous system problems can be noticed when your pet ingests 0.7 ounces of chocolate per pound. At this rate a 20 pound dog would have to eat a pound of milk chocolate. Unfortunately, I have personal experience here. When my dog Belle was a puppy she ate a Terry’s chocolate orange which was one pound. Luckily she got quite hyper for a day and had some pretty wicked diarrhea, but it never got worse.
Semi-sweet chocolate is found in small Hershey’s Kisses used to make cookies and things like that. It takes about a third of an ounce per pound to translate into problems. Now we are getting into the plausible realm. It would only take six ounces to cause problems for a 20 pound dog.
Baking chocolate has the highest concentrations of theobromine. You can start seeing symptoms from eating 0.1 ounces of chocolate per pound. Each square of baking chocolate weighs about one ounce. For a 20 pound dog just 1
-2 squares can be very toxic.
There is one other source for toxicity that most people don’t think about. Certain mulches and potpourri contain cacao bean shells. Cacao beans are the main ingredient of chocolate and contain the caffeine and the theobromine. People buy these mixes because of the great chocolate aroma. If your pet eats any of the bean hulls, toxic symptoms can be severe.
Unfortunately, there is no test for theobromine levels. Diagnosis of chocolate toxicity is usually made by the owner seeing or suspecting that the pet ate chocolate. Treatment usually consists of giving the dog a medicine that will induce vomiting then administering charcoal which helps to bind up the toxic substances. We also give high amounts of IV or subcuticular fluids to help flush it out of the body faster. Occasionally medications may be needed to decrease the heart rate and blood pressure if it is dangerously high. Once treatment is started symptoms usually resolve within one to two days. Needless to say the best medicine is prevention. Keep your semi-sweet and baking chocolate away from the reach of your pet. If your pet ingests high amounts of chocolate, be sure to call your veterinarian. Try to tell your vet what type and how much chocolate your pet ate. Your pet’s weight would also be very helpful. Together, you can determine if your pet needs medical attention.