What is So Bad About Chocolate?


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I saw it again the other day – a woman sitting in her car, sharing bits of her chocolate bar with her toy poodle. Now, when it comes to the well-being of animals, I’m not much of a “stand by and mind my own business” type of person, so I wandered over, and explained to her that chocolate is very bad for dogs. “But he loves it,” she responded, “and a little bit won’t hurt him.”

Well of course he likes it – it’s food, right? But the fact is, even “a little bit” of chocolate can be harmful. I’ve talked about things your dog should not be given in Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One, and certainly chocolate is not the only item on the list. But it is definitely one of the most deadly. So, why is chocolate bad for dogs?


The offending ingredient in chocolate is theobromine, a caffeine-like stimulant that is highly toxic to dogs. The amount of theobromine in chocolate can vary widely. Usually, the darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content, but you can’t count on it. That’s because many confectioners now “fortify” their milk chocolate, and even their white chocolate, with theobromine. What this means is there is no such thing as any type of chocolate that your dog can safely consume.

Symptoms of Theobromine Poisoning

Theobromine acts on the central nervous system, heart and kidneys. Symptoms will typically appear anywhere from 4 to 24 hours after your dog consumes chocolate, and can vary in intensity depending on how much chocolate the dog has eaten. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting (possibly including blood)
  • Poor coordination
  • Muscle tension
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures

This is not something that you should take lightly. If you have reason to believe that your dog has ingested chocolate, and he is showing any of these symptoms, take him to the vet right away.

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How Much is Too Much?

As little as 100 milligrams of theobromine per kilogram of your dog’s body weight is considered toxic. So, what does this translate to in terms of product?

25 grams of milk chocolate will usually contain from 44 to 64 milligrams of theobromine. 25 grams of semi-sweet or sweet dark chocolate usually has 150 to 160 milligrams, and unsweetened baking chocolate 390 to 450 milligrams. 25 grams of cocoa powder can contain as much as 800 milligrams of theobromine. Keep in mind, though, that these are just guidelines – as previously mentioned, you can’t count on the chocolate not being fortified.

What this translates into, for practical purposes, is that a dog can become ill at very low ingestion levels. As little as 200 grams of milk chocolate (assuming that it has not been fortified), will likely cause vomiting and diarrhea in a dog the size of a Labrador Retriever. Half a kilogram can cause seizures, or even death.

What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate

This is a veterinary emergency, so don’t waste time. Try to determine how much chocolate your dog has eaten, and the type of chocolate. This will help the vet to determine whether the amount consumed is toxic, and what course of action to take.

There is no such thing as an antidote for theobromine poisoning. The usual treatment involves the vet making your dog vomit by washing out his stomach using activated charcoal. In addition to inducing vomiting, this also helps to absorb any theobromine that may remain in the intestine. Other treatments may be needed depending on the symptoms your dog is displaying. He may need medication to slow his heart rate and blood pressure, or to stop seizures, and may also require intravenous fluids if he is dehydrated.

The good news is that if the dog is quickly treated, he will probably recover. Even when a lot of chocolate has been consumed, the prognosis is generally good.

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The Final Word

If most people really knew how dangerous it is to give a dog chocolate, they probably wouldn’t do it. Of course dogs do get into things they shouldn’t have, so it’s best to keep chocolate well out of reach of your dog, inside a drawer or upper cupboard.

Of course that’s not to say that you can’t relax at the end of the day with some delicious chocolate treats while snuggled up with your best buddy. Just keep something on hand that he can enjoy as well, so he won’t be tempted to sneak a bite of your guilty pleasure if you look away for a second or two. He’d probably appreciate some Milkbones, or maybe some Pup-Peroni treats. These lean, flavorful snacks usually retail for $13.19 in a 25-ounce size, but Amazon has them for just $9.39. And if you want to stock up, you can get free shipping if your order totals $49.00 or more.

It’s just not worth the potential heartache if your dog has a toxic reaction to chocolate. So keep him safe, and be sure to offer only treats that you know are good for him. After all, you want to keep your best friend with you for many years to come!