Why is Chocolate so Toxic to Dogs?

3 min read
Jan 10, 2022

Chocolate, a popular and common treat gifted on special holidays and occasions, should be kept out of your pets reach. Dogs + chocolate = problems. What makes chocolate so toxic to dogs? What can you do if your dog gets into your chocolate stash? Keep reading to find out!  

Chocolate Basics

Chocolate originates from the Theobroma cacao tree and contains two chemicals—theobromine and caffeine—that are toxic to dogs. These chemicals get absorbed very quickly by a dog’s digestive system but linger for a long time because dogs’ bodies cannot break them down very well. Compared to people, dogs are very sensitive to the effects of theobromine and caffeine.  

Chocolate contains much more theobromine than caffeine, so we’ll focus on theobromine as the culprit in chocolate toxicity.  

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Chocolate toxicity in dogs is rarely fatal but can make dogs quite sick. This toxicity depends on three things: (1) type of chocolate, (2) amount of chocolate, and (3) body weight.   

For types of chocolate, here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: the darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine levels. The list below goes from darkest to lightest chocolates (and most to least dangerous):  

  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Unsweetened baking chocolate
  • Semisweet chocolate
  • Dark chocolate
  • Milk chocolate

The amount of chocolate that’s eaten relates to the type of chocolate. For example, a tiny amount of baking chocolate can cause severe chocolate toxicity in a dog, while that same amount of milk chocolate might cause only mild discomfort. 

For bodyweight, smaller dogs are more sensitive to chocolate. For example, it takes much less chocolate to sicken a Shih Tzu compared to a Great Dane. Online chocolate toxicity calculators can help you estimate chocolate toxicity for your dog.  

Did your Pup Eat Chocolate? Common Symptoms to Look For

Listed below are some common symptoms to look for in your pet if you think they have gotten into chocolate:  

  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Rigid muscles
  • Increased thirst and urination

Chocolate toxicity symptoms usually show up within 6–12 hours after chocolate ingestion and can last for up to three days.1

More severe symptoms include seizures, collapse, and sudden death. Older dogs and dogs with heart problems can die suddenly from chocolate toxicity.  

What to Do

Chocolate toxicity in dogs is nothing to play around with. Treatment requires eliminating chocolate from a dog’s system and treating the symptoms. If you know or suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate, start monitoring them for signs of chocolate toxicity.   

While keeping a close eye on your dog, call either the Pet Poison Hotline (855-213-6680) or your veterinarian to determine what to do next. Even if your dog is not showing chocolate toxicity symptoms, immediate treatment is still warranted to get the chocolate out of his system before the symptoms start. If your dog is already sick, immediate treatment is absolutely indicated to prevent his symptoms from worsening.  Learn more about what to do if your dog eats chocolate.

Veterinary treatment for chocolate toxicity includes administering medications to induce vomiting and prevent further chocolate absorption. Other drugs are given according to the observed symptoms. For example, a dog who is having seizures after eating chocolate will be given anti-seizure medication. Dogs with severe chocolate toxicity require hospitalization until they are stable enough to go home.  

Preventing Chocolate Toxicity 

The best thing you can do is keep your dog away from all chocolate. Here a few ways to do this:

  • Store chocolate on high shelves in cabinets that your dog can’t reach
  • Keep safety locks on cabinets that contain chocolate and chocolate based foods 
  • Make the kitchen off-limits to your dog when you’re baking chocolate treats

Bringing it Together

Dogs and chocolate don’t mix. Do everything you can to keep your dog from indulging in this sweet treat. If your pet does ingest chocolate, be sure to contact your vet or the Pet Poison Hotline immediately. 

Consider Investing in Dog Insurance  

Looking for more ways to keep your pup happy and healthy? Consider investing in a dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.  Get your free quote today. 

Protect your Dog

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1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

1AKC: What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate