Chocolate toxicity — What you need to know

By Caroline Klapper | Mar 24, 2014
Carolina Klapper

Easter is just around the corner and for many that means Easter egg hunts, egg dying and lots and lots of chocolate. Having all those tasty holiday treats around can prove hard for people to resist, and the same goes for our canine friends. Sneaking too many chocolatey treats might mean gaining a few unwanted extra pounds for us, but for a dog, consuming chocolate can lead to illness and even death.

Whenever any holiday is approaching, the staff at Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital (REACH) know we need to be prepared for an influx of dogs with chocolate poisoning, otherwise known as chocolate toxicity.

“It’s one of the most common toxicities we see,” said Dr. Randy Wetzel, medical director at REACH.

What is it?

Although humans can safely eat fairly large quantities of chocolate, even small amounts of the sweet stuff can be dangerous for dogs.

Chocolate contains caffeine and a chemical called theobromine, and both are bad for dogs. Humans can process caffeine and theobromine relatively quickly, but dogs metabolize these substances much more slowly, which means they can reach toxic levels in a dog’s body quickly and they remain in their system much longer.

And the darker the chocolate, the worse the problem.

“Unsweetened cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain higher amounts of toxins than milk chocolate,” said Wetzel. “But larger quantities of milk chocolate can still be dangerous.”


Dogs can experience vomiting and diarrhea from eating even small amounts of chocolate, but the symptoms can take hours to develop and by then, it might have reached toxic levels.

Toxic amounts of chocolate can cause hyperactivity, high blood pressure, increased thirst, an increased heart rate, tremors and sometimes seizures. Severe cases can lead to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, which is why it is important to consult a veterinarian any time a dog has ingested any amount of chocolate.

The vet can help determine if the amount of chocolate is toxic and if the dog needs treatment.

“Not every dose of chocolate ingestion is toxic,” said Wetzel. “We have a chocolate calculator that considers the patient’s weight, the type of chocolate and the amount ingested. The calculator is intended to be a guide as some individuals may be more sensitive than others and some brands of chocolate may be more toxic to dogs than other chocolates. If in doubt, it is best to treat.”

How is it treated?

If a dog needs to be treated, it is always best to have it treated by a veterinarian.

Giving a dog peroxide to induce vomiting is a common “home remedy,” but this method isn’t recommended.

“It can potentially cause a severe life-threatening stomach problem,” said Wetzel. “We use an injection of a medication that very quickly and effectively induces vomiting.”

Once the dog has emptied its stomach, further treatment and monitoring might be necessary depending on the amount of chocolate consumed.

“Giving activated charcoal is frequently recommended as well as close monitoring for heart arrhythmias,” said Wetzel.

The charcoal helps to absorb the toxins, and because chocolate can cause heart arrhythmias, monitoring helps to recognize if an irregular rhythm is occurring and medication can be quickly used to treat it.

Of course, the best treatment is to prevent chocolate poisoning from happening in the first place, so remember to always keep chocolate out of the dog’s reach.

Caroline Klapper is a nursing assistant at Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital (REACH).