Halloween is just around the corner which means there’s likely going to be an influx of tasty treats in your house. Chocolate is arguably the most well-known of human foods that are not safe for our pets to eat, but is it actually as bad for dogs as people say it is? Keep reading if you want to get to the bottom of this much-talked-about topic.
The short answer is no, dogs absolutely cannot eat chocolate. This is because caffeine and theobromine, two of the chemicals found in chocolate, are toxic to dogs.
What makes these two chemicals toxic is due to how slowly a dog’s body processes them – especially theobromine. To put it in perspective, it takes a dog 17.5 hours to eliminate half of the theobromine in their body after they ingest it, whereas it only takes humans 2-3 hours.
After a dog eats chocolate, the first thing you’ll notice is the sudden onset of extreme excitement – imagine a child who is allowed to eat all of their Halloween candy as soon as they get home from trick or treating. After this period of extreme excitement, you’ll notice symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or in more serious cases, seizures, tremors, irregular heart rate, heart attack, and internal bleeding.
The answer to this question is a bit more complicated as it has to do with both the size of your dog and their genetics.
Theobromine poisoning is measured in milligrams per kilogram of body weight, with mild symptoms appearing after ingesting 20 mg/kg, severe signs at 40-60 mg/kg and a lethal amount falling between 100-200 mg/kg. It’s very important to note that since each milligram ‘dose’ is measured per kilogram of body weight, what is considered a low dose for a large dog could be a very high dose for a small dog.
In other words, if you have a dog that weighs only 5kg, then ingesting 20mg of theobromine is going to have much more serious consequences than for a dog that weighs 50kg.
That doesn’t mean that if you have a big dog it’s okay for them to have the occasional piece of chocolate, however. Research has shown that repeated theobromine ingestion can lead to the development of a chronic heart disease called cardiomyopathy, which can be deadly. What’s more, another study found that some dogs have a genetic variant that makes them lack the ability to break down some substances, including theobromine. This means that regardless of their size, they can become incredibly sick after eating very little chocolate.
If you know exactly how much chocolate your dog has consumed, for example, if a full-sized chocolate bar suddenly disappeared from your counter, then you can check an online calculator to figure out whether they’ve eaten enough for it to be of concern. You can also call the animal poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435 to speak to a professional who can help you assess the situation and next steps.
If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate but aren’t sure how much, or if they are pregnant, have underlying health issues, or are displaying symptoms, then you’ll want to take them to the vet immediately.
When you get to the vet, the first thing they’ll do is empty your dog’s stomach using a quick-absorbing medicine called apomorphine. Next, your dog will be given activated charcoal that will bind to the theobromine and stop it from being absorbed into the body. Depending on the amount of chocolate consumed, they may need to repeat this step multiple times.
After this, your vet will look at the individual symptoms and if necessary, prescribe medicine to manage them.
Interestingly, theobromine is actually more toxic to cats than dogs but you don’t hear much about keeping chocolate away from them because cats are significantly more picky about what they eat than dogs. What’s more, cats are actually missing the “sweet” taste receptors so are neither attracted to or disgusted by sweet items like chocolate – they simply don’t care about them.
Whether you have young children in the house or not, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a decent amount of candy at home around Halloween. Even if your dog doesn’t usually try to steal people food, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep all Halloween treats out of reach. Some ways to do this include:
Your dog may not be able to help you get through all those tasty little chocolate bars, but that doesn't mean they can’t enjoy a special treat this Halloween. Skip the chocolate and instead offer them one of our fresh treats instead!