Why is CHOCOLATE so SCARY for a dog (or cat)?

You know that chocolate is bad for dogs. Cats are usually too finicky to eat it. But, do you know why? More importantly, do you know what signs of chocolate toxicity you should look for and what to do?

The severity and onset of clinical signs of CHOCOLATE TOXICITY depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Chocolate by-products called methylxanthines—theobromine (primary) and caffeine (secondary)—are to blame.

Signs of a problem are seen 6 to 12 hours after ingestion. Think of it like an extreme caffeine overdose. Initially, the dog may appear restless, bloated, may vomit or have diarrhea, or, may drink a lot. This may progress to agitation, tremors, muscle rigidity, ataxia (walking like “drunk”), seizures, collapse, coma, and death.

Death may be due to cardiac arrhythmias, respiratory failure, or hyperthermia-induced disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Also, the high sugar and fat content of chocolate may cause gastrointestinal distress, possibly pancreatitis (also life-threatening in severe cases…my old dog Ruby was hospitalized for two days at ASEC after vomiting 12 times…she recovered).

If your dog (or cat) eats chocolate, it’s best to have them evaluated by a veterinarian or emergency clinic as soon as possible. We usually induce emesis (vomiting) right away with a drug called apomorphine. If a dog is showing signs of toxicity, additional treatment will be necessary…such as diazepam for seizures, beta-blockers for tachyarrhythmias, fluids for hyperthermia, etc. If for any reason you cannot go to the ER, call ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680; fees apply for consultations.

Below is a chocolate toxicity calculator for dogs: