Chocoholics, unite! The world’s love affair with this sweet confection is certainly well-established. Global chocolate consumption is set to hit 7.5 million tons this year, or slightly less than two pounds for every person on earth. Considering that most of us eat much more than our fair share—the average American eats roughly 19.8 pounds of chocolate per year— it’s easy to see how our pets get their paws on this tempting toxin.

With chocolate’s ubiquitous presence—especially around the holidays—you must carefully monitor your pet around this tempting delight. Read our Southeast Texas Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team’s guide to learn how to prevent your pet from eating this bittersweet hazard, and what to do if your feisty furry friend manages to gobble down a chocolate treat before you can snatch the sweet away. 

Chocolate toxicosis in pets

Chocolate and its precursor cacao contain chemical compounds that are toxic to dogs, cats, and other mammals. However, dogs more frequently develop toxicosis, likely because they have overwhelming appetites and less-discriminating palates. 

The gastrointestinal tract of a pet who eats chocolate absorbs the chemical compounds theobromine and caffeine, and they enter the bloodstream. As these compounds circulate through a pet’s body, they stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) and muscle tissue—including the heart—resulting in the animal experiencing tremors, seizures, and potentially life-threatening arrhythmias. Because these toxins are recycled through the liverrather than excreted through the kidneysaffected pets can experience prolonged clinical signs for up to 72 hours. 

Chocolate toxicosis signs in pets

While abandoned candy wrappers and chocolate-scented breath point to your pet’s misbehavior, recognizing toxicity signs can also prompt you to seek immediate treatment for your beloved companion. Early medical treatment is especially important considering toxicity signs may take 6 to 12 hours to appear. Common chocolate toxicity signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Ataxia (i.e., behaving as if intoxicated)
  • Panting from hyperthermia
  • Distended abdomen
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Although death from chocolate toxicosis is uncommon, severe arrhythmias, hyperthermia, and respiratory distress can be fatal. To prevent early clinical signs’ progression, you should seek treatment for your pet as quickly as possible after you are certain or suspect your furry pal has eaten chocolate.  

Keep these chocolate sources away from your pet

Dark and bitter chocolate contain higher theobromine and caffeine concentrations than milk chocolate. However, milk chocolate contains a high fat content that may trigger pancreatitis—your pet’s equally dangerous inflammatory response, which requires hospitalization. The following chocolate products—presented from most to least toxic—commonly cause pets’ chocolate toxicosis:

  • Cocoa powder  
  • Unsweetened chocolate
  • Cocoa bean mulch
  • Semisweet and sweet dark chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • White chocolate

The more potent the chocolate ingredient, the lower the amount needed to cause toxicity. For example, a 55-pound dog who consumes as few as three ounces of cocoa powder will experience a potentially deadly emergency. However, that same dog would have to consume one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight—in this case, a whopping 55 ounces (i.e., approximately 3.4 pounds)—to reach a potentially lethal dose. If you know or suspect your dog has consumed chocolate, do not wait—immediately contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team, or seek care at your nearest emergency veterinary hospital. 

Chocolate toxicity diagnosis and treatment for pets

Your veterinarian will diagnose your pet’s chocolate toxicosis based on the information you provide and any notable clinical signs your furry pal displays. To stop or correct arrhythmias, seizures, or tremors, a veterinarian will immediately treat a pet if they are actively experiencing cardiovascular or CNS signs. Once a pet is stabilized—or during an asymptomatic pet’s initial admission—a veterinarian will likely induce vomiting or administer activated charcoal to expel or absorb chocolate in an affected pet’s upper gastrointestinal tract.

Veterinarians typically hospitalize symptomatic pets to administer intravenous (IV) fluid therapy, reduce body temperature, accelerate toxin elimination, provide supportive medications (e.g., antinausea, anticonvulsant, diuretic), and for close monitoring. Once clinical signs subside, patients are discharged, provided with oral medications—and given a strong warning to stay away from chocolate. 

Preventing chocolate toxicosis in pets

To prevent your pet from eating chocolate, you must control their environment, supervise your furry pal, and minimize their exposure to the tempting treat. You can easily keep your pet away from chocolate by doing the following:

  • Banish your pet from the kitchen — Common baking items or odds and ends left on the counter or in an unsecured trash can are easy pickings for curious pets. When you are finished with baking supplies, immediately return them to their storage areas—ideally out of your pet’s reach and in securely closed containers.
  • Keep holiday candy in the kitchen — Nosy pets can sniff out holiday chocolate in children’s bedrooms, candy dishes, and your home office. Ensure family members store all holiday treats in securely closed containers out of your pet’s reach in the kitchen.
  • Store bags, lunch boxes, and laundry out of reach — Forgotten chocolates are often abandoned in pockets, bags, and lunch boxes. To discourage snooping snouts, ensure your family hangs up these items on hooks, high shelves, or in securely closed baskets.
  • Read mulch labels — Cocoa bean hulls are commonly used in cocoa mulch. Although some companies remove the methylxanthines during manufacturing, when in doubt, keep pets away from areas landscaped with this mulch.

Although humans frequently fail to resist chocolate’s siren song, you must take appropriate care to ensure your pet does not surrender to this product’s toxic threat. If you know or suspect your pet has consumed a chocolate product or another toxin, immediately contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville team.