Chocolate contains three compounds that are very toxic to dogs: theobromine, caffeine and methylxanthine. While milk chocolate contains the least of these compounds, other forms of chocolate contain much more. Dark chocolate has about 3 times higher levels of toxic chemicals than milk chocolate and bakers chocolate the most at about 10 times more! An average Labrador Retriever would have to ingest a whole bag of milk chocolate candies to start having seizures, but just a couple bites of bakers chocolate stolen from the counter would have the same result.
In addition to the toxic compounds there is also often a lot of fat in chocolate treats. The fat alone can cause a severe condition in dogs called pancreatitis, which causes vomiting and abdominal pain.
Dogs that have eaten chocolate may show signs of vomiting and diarrhea and excitability. More severe signs can be seen if enough of the toxic compounds have been ingested – tremors, seizures, abnormal heart rhythm, even death.
If you find that your dog has ingested chocolate do not hesitate to call you veterinarian. Save any packaging from the chocolate. It can be really helpful to calculate the amount of toxic chemicals your dog has ingested. Your vet can give some quick advice over the phone. For smaller doses of chocolate the vet may have you induce vomiting and recommend some monitoring and an exam to check for heart rhythm changes. Larger dose ingestions may require hospitalization and possibly even critical care for several days. Be sure to report any vomiting or diarrhea. Dogs tend to have sensitive systems compared to us humans. Eating even a non-toxic dose of chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea and require medical care for your dog.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep all chocolate-containing candies and treats in a place that you dog cannot get to them. Educate your children and guests about the dangers of doggies eating chocolate. With a little extra care this season you can keep your dog safe from chocolate toxicity.