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Chocolate Toxicity in dogs: How much is too much?

Most people know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs but may not know why or how much is toxic to a dog.

Why is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which primarily affects the nervous system, cardiovascular system (heart and circulation) and urination. In high enough doses, it can be toxic to all species, including humans! Fortunately for us, chocolate contains a small enough quantity that humans can usually process it without a problem, however metabolism of theobromine from chocolate and cocoa is slow in the dog compared to their owners. The onset of clinical signs of chocolate toxicity is usually seen within 24 hours but more likely within four hours. Once seen the signs may persist for up to 72 hours.

The signs to watch out for if your dog has eaten too much chocolate include:

·         Increased excitability / irritability

·         Increased heart rate

·         Restlessness

·         Vomiting

·         Increased urination

·         Muscle tremors

·         If severe intoxication, seizures, cardiac arrest and death can occur 

Chocolate is also toxic for cats, but it is rarely a problem for them as cats do not generally like the taste.

How Much Chocolate is Fatal for Dogs?

Fatal doses of theobromine are between 90 – 250mg per kg of body weight.  Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine with dark chocolate containing around six times the amount in milk chocolate and cocoa powder containing even more still.  For a 10 kg dog such as a West Highland Terrier, potentially toxic levels can be reached by eating only 2.2oz (63grams) of unsweetened cooking chocolate, or 23.5 oz (670grams) of milk chocolate.

My Dog Has Eaten Chocolate: What to do

There is no specific antidote for chocolate poisoning in dogs.  If you suspect your dog may have eaten chocolate or cocoa powder then veterinary advice should be sought immediately.  Inducing vomiting can help if the chocolate was eaten within one to two hours.  Other treatment may include charcoal administration by a vet to inhibit absorption of the toxins.  In more severe cases intensive care may be required over a number of days and include supportive therapy with seizure control medications, oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids etc. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the outcome is usually very good for chocolate toxicity cases.

Chocolate poisoning is a very real threat to your dog. To avoid this occurring, make sure chocolate is kept secure and out of reach of your dog. Be extra vigilant during seasonal holidays such as Easter and Christmas, where chocolate can often be found throughout the home.  If you suspect your dog has eaten a significant amount of chocolate, don't delay, speak to your veterinary surgeon and get the dog seen.

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