Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but we can bet you know how to show your pet love every day of the year (snuggles, walks, and belly rubs anyone?). But there’s one sweet treat that we all need to be aware of when it comes to our pets – chocolate.

The day of love is notorious for chocolate ingestion in pets, resulting in emergency room visits across the country. Although rarely fatal, chocolate can cause serious illness in pets. And since chocolate is around most days of the year – not just in chocolate heart form – Huntington Veterinary Hospital would like to take this opportunity to discuss chocolate toxicity in pets.

Chocolate Toxicity In Pets

Chocolate is toxic to pets because of its main chemical components, theobromine and caffeine. Pets don’t metabolize these ingredients as well as humans do, and are therefore more sensitive to their effects.

In general, the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains. Baking chocolate has the most, and white chocolate has almost none (although it can still make your pet sick with all the fat and sugar it contains).

How Much Chocolate is Toxic for Pets?

We get many questions when a pet gets into the chocolate and pet parents are wondering just how much chocolate poses a toxic dose.  In short, toxic doses have been reported as low as 20 mg/kg, where signs such as drooling, agitation, and diarrhea can be seen.

Since baking chocolate can contain 130 mg of theobromine per ounce, you can see that a 50 pound dog would only need to ingest 1 oz of baking chocolate to show signs of chocolate toxicity.

The toxic dose for cats is even lower, but cats are less prone to eating chocolate than dogs are, since they cannot taste sweetness. It’s always best to keep cats away from chocolate just to be safe.

Signs of Chocolate Toxicity

If your pet has gotten into the chocolate, the first symptoms may be vomiting and diarrhea. Clinical signs will vary depending on the dog and the type and amount of chocolate eaten. If you see any of these signs, or know that your dog has eaten chocolate, bring him to see us right away so we can begin treatment as soon as possible.

  • Drooling
  • Agitation/ hyperactivity
  • Increased thirst
  • Panting and restlessness
  • Racing heart rate
  • Excessive urination

In extreme cases, neurological signs can occur, such as muscle tremors, trembling, and even seizures.

Treatment

The treatment we recommend will depend upon the type and amount of chocolate eaten, as well as your pet’s general health. If treated early, administering medication to induce vomiting and giving activated charcoal to prevent the absorption of theobromine into the body systems may be all that is necessary.

Even if treatment is simple, it is imperative that your pet be hospitalized for observation to ensure that symptoms don’t develop. IV fluids are an important way to stabilize your pet and promote theobromine excretion. We’ll monitor her for agitation, elevated heart rate, and other dangerous effects of theobromine. At times, medications need to be administered to slow or regulate the heart rhythm.

If you’re worried that your pet has eaten chocolate, please call us or bring your pet in immediately. The sooner we can begin treatment, the better the outcome for your pet. You may also call the Animal Poison Control Center for help.

You can also call 1-888 HOMEAGAIN (1-888-466-3242) and hit prompt 2 to speak with a licensed ASPCA veterinarian in a pet medical emergency. For HomeAgain members who have the full service annual membership, there is no charge for use of the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline. If your pet is microchipped and registered with Home Again, they can get 1 free call to the Poison Pet Hotline. Please note that if your pet does not have a HomeAgain full service annual membership, you may be charged $60 for this call.

And, don’t forget to store those chocolate hearts (and all other chocolate!) safely out of reach of your pets. Together, we can give them lots of love while keeping them safe, too. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us.