Many people covet the comfort that chocolate treats bring during times of celebration or sorrow. In fact, certain chocolates, especially the dark variety, may have health benefits for people, such as antioxidants. While chocolate candies, treats, and drinks are available year-round, they are especially present during the holidays, and they are often a popular gift or dessert for festive gatherings. The enticing aroma of chocolate is difficult for many peopleand petsto resist, and pet owners may be tempted to share their favorite treat with their furry pals. However, chocolate can be toxic to pets, especially dogs, and may cause death in some cases. It is not uncommon for pets to sneak some of this sweet treat, and in 2020, chocolate was the fourth most common pet toxin reported by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, with more than 76 cases reported daily. Our Animal Care and Emergency Services (ACES) team wants to help pet owners to avoid an unexpected emergency veterinary visit, and we share chocolate toxicity dangers, signs, treatment, and prevention tips.

Chipping away at the problem with chocolate and your pet

Although rarely fatal, chocolate ingestion can lead to severe illness in your pet because of the chemicals theobromine and caffeine that are present in most chocolates. In humans, these chemicals may be used medicinally as a heart stimulant, diuretic, blood vessel dilator, or smooth muscle relaxant. However, pets are not able to metabolize these chemicals easily, and it can take several days for them to process through their bodies. Dogs are most at risk for chocolate toxicity, but cats also may be affected. The toxic effects vary depending on your pet’s weight, and the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Dark, bitter, less sweet chocolate, such as baker’s chocolate, often contains higher levels of theobromine and caffeine. White and milk chocolate tend to have the lowest levels of theobromine. However, one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be lethal to some dogs. In addition to the toxic chemicals, some chocolates may contain other pet-toxic ingredients such as macadamia nuts, raisins, salt, or xylitol

Recognizing the not-so-sweet chocolate toxicity signs in your pet

Pets who ingest chocolate have an increased risk of developing pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory condition that can be life-threatening. In severe cases, pets also may experience cardiac arrest or central nervous system problems. Toxicity signs may take hours to occur and may include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration or excessive panting
  • Increased reflexes 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Pale or blue gums
  • Tremors 
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures

Treat-ment options for your pet’s chocolate toxicity

Bring your pet in to our Animal Care and Emergency Services for immediate care if you see them ingesting any chocolate, or if they are showing chocolate toxicity signs. When possible, bring the wrapper of the chocolate your pet ingested, so our veterinarian can determine the type and amount. If your pet has recently ingested chocolate, our veterinarian may induce them to vomit. However, never induce vomiting in your pet yourself unless directed to do so by a veterinarian. Pets with severe toxicity signs may require hospitalization for treatment, stabilization, and monitoring. It can take several days for your pet’s signs to resolve, and aggressive therapy will ensure the best outcome. Additionally, our veterinarian may recommend several blood tests to monitor your pet’s overall organ function, and to check for secondary problems, like pancreatitis. Treatments may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, and to decontaminate 
  • Activated charcoal for toxin absorption
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Gastroprotectant medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-seizure medication

Choc-full of prevention for your pet

Never sharing your chocolate treat or drink with your four-legged companion is the best prevention against chocolate toxicity. Ensure you have the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center number and our ACES number available in the event of accidental ingestion. In addition, storing any chocolate-containing products out of paw’s reach will help prevent your pet from being accidentally poisoned. Other prevention tips include:

  • Storing household candy in a pet-proof container 
  • Never leaving candy bowls, desserts, or drinks containing chocolate liquor out in a room with unsupervised pets
  • Keeping pets in a separate room during gatherings where chocolate candies or desserts may be served 
  • Covering all garbage cans to prevent ingestion of leftover desserts or candy wrappers

Call our Animal Care Emergency Services office and bring your pet in for emergency care if you suspect they have indulged in a chocolate treat, or if they are showing chocolate toxicity signs.