Why Can’t Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate

It’s evident that dogs can’t and should not eat chocolate. However, do you know why? Chocolates contain toxic substances that lead to severe poisoning or even death.

The toxicity of chocolate arises because it contains theobromine and caffeine. These components are naturally occurring methylxanthines in cocoa beans, from where chocolates are derived. 

Unlike humans, dogs are incapable of metabolizing these methylxanthines. This allows these toxic substances to build up in their systems, causing clinical signs of chocolate poisoning. Caffeine is also harmful, but it exists in lesser amounts in chocolates.

The toxic dose of chocolates and the severity of chocolate poisoning depends on your dog’s size, with smaller dogs facing a higher risk than large dogs. Mild signs of chocolate poisoning can appear at a dose of 20 mg/kg, while severe symptoms begin at 40 mg/kg, and 60 mg/kg will cause seizures.

The toxic concentration of the poisonous compounds differs from one type of chocolate to another. The darker and the more bitter the chocolate, the higher the concentration, and the more dangerous it is to dogs. Cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, and dark gourmet have very high theobromine concentrations and are thus the most toxic. 

Milk chocolate and white chocolate, on the other hand, contain less theobromine and thus may be less toxic. However, they are also not safe for feeding your dog.

The following are the different chocolate types, arranged from the most toxic to the least toxic:

  • Unsweetened dry cocoa powder
  • Baking chocolate
  • Dark chocolate
  • semi-sweet / bitter chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
  • White chocolate

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Unsweetened dry cocoa powder 

Dogs should never eat unsweetened dry cocoa powder. According to ASPCA, this type of chocolate is the most toxic. It contains very high concentrations of methylxanthines with about 26 mg of theobromine per gram, making it highly toxic.

Feeding unsweetened dry cocoa powder to dogs can lead to fatal effects with as little as 0.14 ounces (4 grams), capable of causing toxic results to a 10-pound dog. The high amount of theobromine can speed up a dog’s heart rate, putting it at risk of heart attack, seizures, and even death, depending on the amount of cocoa powder that the dog has consumed.

A large dog may get away without any negative consequences on its health or experience mild symptoms if it consumes a very limited amount of cocoa powder. On the other hand, a small dog can suffer deadly effects from even small amounts.

Baking chocolate 

Baking chocolate is the second most toxic type after unsweetened dry cocoa powder. With theobromine levels of 804 mg per ounce of chocolate, this chocolate is highly poisonous to dogs.

This chocolate should not be fed to dogs under any circumstance as it can have fatal effects. Depending on the amount of chocolate taken and size, dogs may suffer mild to severe consequences. A large dog may experience mild symptoms like stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. In contrast, a small dog may experience seizures or death from feeding even little bits of baking chocolate. However, you should avoid feeding your dog baking chocolate regardless of its size. type,

If you suspect your dog has consumed baking chocolate, take it to a vet immediately, and don’t wait for the symptoms to appear.

Dark chocolate (above 60 percent cacao) 

Along with baking chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder, dark chocolate has a high potential of causing poisoning in dogs due to its high theobromine content. This means that it only takes very little amounts to poison a dog. Less than an ounce of dark chocolate is enough to poison a 44-pound dog.

The severity of poisoning from dark chocolate depends on the size, weight, age, and health condition of a dog. Very young and extremely old have a higher risk of getting dark chocolate poisoning, even from very small amounts.

The symptoms of chocolate poisoning will appear between 6-and 12 hours after ingestion. With large amounts, theobromine will produce symptoms including;

  • Muscle tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart attack

Semisweet /Bittersweet chocolate 

Although these have lower levels of theobromine compared to dark chocolate, cocoa powder, or baking powder, they are still poisonous and dangerous for dogs. They should not thus be fed to dogs under any circumstance.

Bittersweet chocolate contains about 70% cacao content. It has a deep flavor and low sweetness level due to its high cacao content. Although it’s not as dark as dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate, it’s darker than milk or semisweet chocolate. 

Semisweet chocolate, on the other hand, has a cacao percentage of 60%. It has the same flavor and texture as bittersweet chocolate. These chocolate varieties have a theobromine concentration level of 160 mg per ounce. Feeding about 3.5 ounces of semisweet/bittersweet chocolate can kill it.

Milk chocolate 

Milk chocolate has lower methylxanthines levels than the other four varieties discussed above. However, this does not make it safe for dogs to consume any amount. Milk chocolate contains 44-60 mg /ounce and 6 mg/ ounce of theobromine and caffeine. Since dogs cannot metabolize these compounds quickly, consuming large amounts of milk chocolate can cause them to build up in the dogs’ systems, leading to chocolate poisoning.

Milk chocolate is more harmful than white chocolate.  It will take just a single ounce of white chocolate per pound of body weight for a dog to get fatal poisoning. A 20-pound dog can die from consuming one pound of milk chocolate, while a 10-pound dog can be affected by half a pound.

White chocolate 

Of all chocolate forms, white chocolate contains the lowest amount of theobromine, with 0.25 mg per ounce. With its low methylxanthines concentration, it’s rare for white chocolate to cause poisoning in dogs.

So, does this mean that the White Chocolate treat is safe for dogs?

Absolutely not. Despite being low in theobromine, white chocolate is still off-limits for dogs. The general rule is not to feed any type of chocolate to dogs, white chocolate included. This is because, in very large amounts, white chocolate can still cause theobromine build-up in a dog’s body, resulting in poisoning. While the risk is low, it’s still there, and hence it’s safer to keep white chocolate off your dog’s way.

Additionally, white chocolate contains high amounts of fats and sugars, making it an unhealthy choice. While the high-fat amount puts dogs at risk of pancreatitis, high sugar levels can lead to obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, and other health problems.

What causes chocolate to be toxic to Dogs? 

Chocolate contains two potentially lethal compounds that make it toxic to dogs. It has caffeine, albeit in low amounts, and high amounts of theobromine, the real problem. These two compounds are present in cocoa beans used in making chocolate.

Just like caffeine, theobromine is an alkaloid that acts as a stimulant.  But, how do these compounds render chocolate toxic?

Dogs, unlike humans, lack the enzyme required to break down these compounds for absorption. This makes them incapable of quickly metabolizing theobromine, leading to a build-up of this toxic substance in the dogs’ bodies.

Too much build-up causes chocolate poisoning, which can be fatal to dogs.  However, the severity of chocolate poisoning depends on various factors, including the size of the dog, the type of chocolate consumed, and the amount. The darker the chocolate, the higher the level of toxicity and the greater the risk of poisoning.

Cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, and dark chocolate are the most toxic due to their high levels of methylxanthines. Even in very small amounts, ingesting can kill dogs regardless of their size. White chocolate and milk chocolate are less toxic, but still not safe for dogs to eat.

What are the negative side effects your dog may experience after eating Chocolate? 

The effects of consuming chocolate will range from mild to severe depending on the dog’s size and the type and quantity of chocolate consumed. While larger dogs may tolerate little bits of chocolate without significant issues, small dogs are likely to experience severe or even fatal consequences of consuming the same.

The health and the age of a dog also determine the extent of chocolate poisoning. Very young or extremely old canines will suffer more severe effects. Senior dogs and those with heart diseases can die suddenly from consuming chocolate. It’s thus important to avoid feeding your dog any chocolate for its safety. 

A dog that has consumed large amounts of chocolate will usually begin to show poisoning symptoms between 6-12 hours after eating.

These symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Muscle tremors and shaking
  • Increased urination
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Collapse and sudden death

What should you do if your dog is suffering from the negative effects of Chocolate? 

If you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate or is showing symptoms of chocolate poisoning, call a vet immediately for immediate intervention. The sooner the dog begins treatment, the higher the possibility of recovering without suffering severe consequences.

You can also call the pet poison hotline or the local emergency veterinary clinic for advice.

It’s important to take note of the chocolate package and the time the chocolate was taken and show it to your vet. This will allow him to assess the severity of the poisoning and suggest the best treatment option. In some instances, the vet may request to see the dog physically.

The treatment aims to remove the chocolate from the dog’s body. Thus, the vet may suggest inducing vomiting depending on the time that the chocolate was consumed. Severe cases may require supplemental treatment methods like IV fluid administration to resolve the effects of poisoning.

How much chocolate does it take to make a dog sick? 

The toxic dose of chocolate varies from one type of chocolate to another. Cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and dark chocolates have very high concentrations of toxic substances, theobromine, and caffeine. This means that even minimal amounts can be lethal to dogs, regardless of their size.

The size, age, and health condition of a dog also determine the extent of chocolate poisoning. While large and healthy adult dogs may get away with mild symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting while consuming little amounts of chocolate, very young and senior dogs can die.

Generally, it takes around 20 mg of theobromine per kilogram of body weight to make a dog sick. A small dog weighing about 5kgs needs will become sick on taking 100 mg of theobromine, translating to about  70g of milk chocolate and only 20g of dark chocolate.

Is chocolate poisonous to Dogs? 

Yes, chocolate is highly poisonous to dogs. The presence of theobromine and caffeine in chocolate renders chocolate toxic to dogs. Dogs are incapable of metabolizing these compounds effectively.  Large amounts of chocolate can cause theobromine build-up in a dog’s body, resulting in poisoning.  As such, this should never be fed to dogs under any circumstance.

The level of toxicity in chocolate depends on the type of chocolate. The darker and the more bitter the chocolate, the higher the toxicity.  Baking chocolate, dark chocolate, and cocoa powder have very high concentrations of theobromine, which is hence considered the most toxic.  Bittersweet and milk chocolate varieties have lower levels of theobromine, while white chocolate has the least amount and poses the least risk.

However, no matter the kind, chocolates are off-limits to dogs as they can have deadly effects. 

Michael Brady

Michael is an animal-lover who specializes in marketing. He started running Dog Food Care with his mother, Sarah, after leaving his office job. Michael gained enough flexibility in his schedule to be able to adopt a dog of his own and welcomed Emmie the dachshund into his home in 2020.