We’ve all heard the claims: if your dog eats chocolate, you might as well start planning the little guy’s funeral, because he or she’s a goner. From an early age, we are told that feeding Fido chocolate will result in him taking a one-way trip to Doggy Heaven. If popular legend is to be believed, it is like a silver bullet that pierces a dog’s heart should the poor pup brush up alongside it. However, like most unsubstantiated and extraordinary claims regarding pet health, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Chocolate as a whole may be high in fat and sugar, which is never good in high doses for any species, but something else in the chocolate has created such a maelstrom of fear around feeding it to pets: it’s called theobromine, and it can be very poisonous to dogs.
Theobromine is a chemical-a stimulant, in particular-found in all sorts of chocolate that in large enough doses wreaks havoc with your dog’s central nervous and cardiovascular system. If your dog munches on a negligible amount, you’ll see few effects. However, if Fido took more than his fair share, serious side effects within the first few hours of ingestion (think muscle twitching, increased urination, vomiting, excessive panting, diarrhea, hyperthermia, arrhythmia and death) may occur.
But there’s the important part: how much is “a negligible amount” and how much of the chemical will manifest into more serious side effects? Should Fido, who just snagged your milk chocolate candy bar, be rushed to the vet, or can you relax?
In order to discern whether your puppy’s in harm, you need to know the following:
- the size and age of your prized pet; and
- the type of chocolate ingested
First of all, age and size matters. Age is important because, as with all animals, a young and strong body can fight off poison in the body better than an old and weak body can.
If your two-year-old 100-pound Rottweiler, however, slurps up a chocolate chip off the floor before you can snag it up, relax. Of course, if that same dog finds your chocolate bar stash and you come home to nothing but a pile of wrappers and a sleepy puppy, you may begin to notice symptoms of chocolate poisoning.
There are different types of chocolate, and each has different amounts of theobromine in them.
- White chocolate contains approximately one milligram of theobromine per ounce, which makes it by far the safest chocolate for you dog to have got its paws on. A 20-pound dog would have to ingest approximately 250 pounds of white chocolate to show signs of poisoining;
- Hot chocolate has twelve milligrams of theobromine per ounce, making it much worse than white chocolate, but far from the worst in the list;
- Milk chocolate is far worse than hot chocolate at approximately 60 milligrams per ounce of the poison. It would take only one pound of milk chocolate to poison a 20-pound pooch;
- Finally, semi-sweet chocolate and baking chocolate dwarf all the others in their danger factor, as they contain around 260 milligrams per ounce of theobromine! If your faithful 20-lb companion eats only two ounces of the stuff, they are at risk of poisoning.
Knowledge is power. If you see symptoms of poisoning you should contact your vet immediately. On the flip side, knowing that a small amount of chocolate will not kill your big, strong pup does not imply that it is a suitable treat. According to veterinary experts, munching even a sliver of chocolate creates a craving in dogs, making them more aggressive in their search for the sweet treat. Wouldn’t it do the same to you?