Can dogs eat chocolate? Is chocolate toxic to dogs?

The most important answer is clear: No, dogs should never eat chocolate! Chocolate can be highly toxic for dogs and lead to symptoms of poisoning or even death. Unfortunately, a gradual poisoning is also possible. Dogs are particularly sensitive to the poison contained in cocoa. But not all types of chocolate are equally poisonous. Find out which dose can be dangerous for your dog, what you should watch out for and what you can do in case of poisoning.

The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is for the dog

Watch out: dogs are magically attracted to sugar

Dogs are attracted to anything that tastes sweet. They love the sweet taste just as humans do. That is why it is so dangerous to leave chocolate within reach of your dog. The chocolate bar doesn't have to be open either, because your dog can smell the sugar very well, even at a distance. Especially chocolate Easter eggs or chocolate Santas, which are often left around in households for the dog to reach at the time of year, can be dangerous.

My Doberman-Rottweiler mix stole a whole packet of milk chocolate from the kitchen table and was only caught when she had already eaten half of the sealed bar. Well, we were lucky and apart from a bit of nausea nothing happened to her - she was a big dog (>37 kg) and it was a relatively light milk chocolate with a low cocoa content. I didn't know at the time that eating chocolate can even be fatal for dogs. Otherwise I would have gone straight to the vet. With a smaller dog or dark chocolate, it could have been life-threatening. So here is a detailed explanation of why your dogs should not eat chocolate.

What kind of substance toxic to dogs does chocolate contain? What dose is lethal?

Cocoa contains the poison theobromine, more precisely: methylxanthine, a purine alkaloid. Theobromine is a neurotoxin. It directly attacks the central nervous system of the dog. Theobromine is contained in the seeds and fruit husks of the cocoa tree, whose botanical name is "Theobroma cacao".

How much chocolate can a dog eat? The type of chocolate determines the degree of poisoning.

In chocolate, the cocoa content is the determining factor for the poisoning of the dog. The higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the higher the proportion of theobromine. 100 g of a dark chocolate are therefore much more toxic than the same amount of a milk chocolate.

It depends on the type of chocolate how much poison it contains:

  • 100 g white chocolate: 0,9 mg theobromine
  • 100 g milk chocolate: 230 mg theobromine
  • 100 g dark chocolate: 800 mg theobromine
  • 100 g 70% chocolate: 2.000 mg theobromine
  • 100 g pure cocoa powder: 2.850 mg theobromine

Note: The theobromine levels vary in chocolate, so this can only be a broad indication!

Particularly dangerous: a gradual poisoning

Theobromine breaks down slowly in the dog's body. If your dog is given small amounts of chocolate repeatedly, the theobromine can accumulate in the blood and then become dangerous depending on the dose. A small dose may not seem to harm your dog, but in the long run it can be dangerous.

It is difficult to say exactly which dose of cocoa leads to a dog's death. What is certain, however, is that even small amounts can lead to symptoms of poisoning in dogs. This is because dogs react differently to the poison. A smaller dose is sufficient for small dogs than for large dogs. The dose should always be seen in relation to the dog's body weight.

Note: Every dog reacts individually and in a different way to the poison. Therefore, these can only be approximate reference values!

  • 20 mg theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight: diarrhoea, vomiting, thirst
  • 40-50 mg theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight: circulatory and heart problems such as palpitations, cardiac arrhythmia
  • from 60 mg theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight: life-threatening symptoms, can already be fatal
  • 250 mg theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight: life-threatening symptoms, half of the dogs die.

In sensitive dogs, 20 mg of theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight can lead to symptoms of poisoning. 60 mg of theobromine per kilogram of bodyweight, on the other hand, can already lead to life-threatening symptoms. 90-250 mg per kilogram of bodyweight is already fatal in up to 50% of dogs. Small breeds, puppies and sick dogs are therefore particularly at risk.

Example calculation for a dog weighing 10kg. What dose of chocolate by type of chocolate would be life-threatening (content of 60 mg theobromine per kilogram bodyweight, i.e. 600 mg theobromine):

  • white chocolate:
    for a 10 kg dog, 66.7 kg of white chocolate contains a life-threatening dose of 600 mg of theobromine
  • milk chocolate:
    for a 10 kg dog, 261 g of milk chocolate already contain a life-threatening dose of theobromine
  • dark chocolate:
    for a 10 kg dog, 75 g of dark chocolate already contain a life-threatening dose of theobromine
  • 70% cocoa chocolate:
    for a 10 kg dog, 30 g of 70% cocoa chocolate already contain a life-threatening dose of theobromine
  • 90% cocoa chocolate:
    for a 10 kg dog, 23 g of 90% cocoa chocolate already contain a life-threatening dose of theobromine
  • pure cocoa powder:
    21 g of cocoa powder can be life-threatening for a 10 kg dog

Note: The theobromine levels vary in chocolate, so this can only be a broad indication!


What are signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs?

The following symptoms can occur in dogs when poisoned with cocoa in e.g. chocolate:

  • First, the poison affects the gastrointestinal tract. The dog shows nausea, severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Strong thirst, kidney problems such as increased urination up to failure of urination.
  • The dog shows restlessness, pants heavily, there may be stiffness and disturbances of the movement apparatus up to cramps or the dog may fall into a coma.
  • Heart problems first appear as palpitations, later in the form of abnormalities.
  • Shortness of breath may occur.
  • In very severe cases of poisoning, death may occur through cardiac arrest or respiratory paralysis.


Which treatment can be applied in case of cocoa or chocolate poisoning? 

In case of acute poisoning, you should go to the vet immediately and call him beforehand. On the one hand, this ensures that the vet is on the spot, and on the other hand, they can be prepared and give you advice over the phone if necessary. In case of poisoning, every minute counts to prevent the poison from getting from the stomach into the blood and possibly causing irreparable damage.

See a vet immediately

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for chocolate. Your vet will try to remove the toxin from the dog's body. There are different methods to do this, but they are only successful in the first 2 hours after ingesting the chocolate so that the poison does not enter the bloodstream. For example, the administration of activated charcoal can bind the poison in the gastrointestinal tract and excrete it with the faeces.

Charcoal helps to flush the toxin out of the body

The best thing you can do, in consultation with your vet, is to give the dog charcoal tablets or, if available, activated charcoal directly  after ingesting the poison, so that the poison is bound in the gastrointestinal tract and does not pass into the blood. For that dissolve 1-4 g of charcoal per kilogram of dog bodyweight in water (1g of charcoal to 5ml of water).

Activated charcoal is a must in the medicine cabinet

In many cases of poisoning, the administration of activated charcoal within the first 2 hours after ingesting the poison is very helpful to prevent the poison from entering the blood.

I always have activated charcoal in my first aid kit. It is best to weigh out the amount of activated charcoal for your dog's weight and also write down how much water it should be mixed with in an emergency. Since dogs do not take this mixture voluntarily, a small funnel or a large syringe (without a needle) is useful to be able to give the dog everything quickly in case of emergency.

With the help of different medications, the vet can also induce vomiting to get the poison out of the body. If the symptoms of poisoning are very severe, the vet can also help your dog with infusions, artificial respiration and antispasmodic medication.

However, the first symptoms of cocoa poisoning may not appear for about 2-4 hours after ingesting the poison. In case of severe poisoning, death may occur after 18-24 hours or even after several days.


What is the prognosis if the dog is poisoned with chocolate?

The prognosis always depends on the basic constitution of your dog and the degree of poisoning. In the case of severe poisoning with chocolate, however, the prognosis is quite uncertain and is often even poor. Immediate treatment is important. The chances are much better in the first two hours after ingesting the chocolate.


Always keep chocolate and cocoa out of reach of the dog

Especially in households with children, chocolate is sometimes within easy reach of the dog and children do not automatically know that chocolate is poisonous for their canine friend. Chocolate can also be lying around in the garden in the form of Easter eggs that have not been found, or in the car. Chocolate cake with chocolate coating is also a big danger to dogs and should definitely be kept away from them safely.

Educate all family members that chocolate and cocoa can be very toxic to dogs. Ask everyone not to leave chocolate open in the house, in the car, or in the garden!

Unfortunately, the most frequent cases of chocolate poisoning in dogs are at Christmas and Easter.