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Can it be true? Is chocolate poisonous to dogs? The answer is yes. The danger to your dog depends on the type of chocolate, your dog’s size, and the amount consumed.
The component in chocolate that is toxic to dogs is called theobromine. Humans easily metabolise theobromine, but dogs process it much more slowly allowing it to build up to toxic levels in their system.
A large dog can consume a great deal more chocolate than a small dog before they will suffer the ill effects. It's also worth remembering that different types of chocolate have different levels of theobromine. Cocoa, cooking chocolate and dark chocolate have the highest levels, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have the lowest.
A small amount of chocolate will probably just give your dog an upset stomach. They may vomit or have diarrhoea. Large amounts will have a more serious effect. In sufficient quantities, theobromine can produce muscle tremors, seizures, an irregular heartbeat or internal bleeding.
What to look out for
The onset of theobromine poisoning is usually marked by severe hyperactivity.
Don't worry if your dog has eaten a single chocolate or helped themselves to the last square of your bar, this won't provide a large enough dosage of theobromine to be harmful. If you have a small dog though, and they have eaten a box of chocolates, you need to get your dog to the vet immediately. If you're dealing with any quantity of dark or bitter chocolate, err on the side of caution and take your dog to the vet. The high level of theobromine in dark chocolate means it takes only a very small amount to poison a dog; just 25 grams may be enough to poison a 20kg dog.
The usual treatment for theobromine poisoning is to induce vomiting within two hours of ingestion. If you are worried that your dog may have eaten a large quantity of chocolate do not hesitate to call your vet. Time will be of the essence.
Reviewed by Dr. Becky Mullis, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition)