Can Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Basset hound sitting on chair with book musing about chocolate.Can dogs eat chocolate? We, humans, love chocolate so much that it’s no wonder why we want to share our favorite treat with our best animal friends. However, dogs should absolutely NOT be given chocolate in any form.

This question has a single-word answer, but to understand why dogs cannot eat chocolate, we’ll have to dig a little deeper for a more comprehensive explanation.

Interested in learning more about why dogs can’t eat chocolate? Keep reading for our in-depth exploration of the topic.

Why is Chocolate Bad for Dogs?

Chocolate is a no-go for dogs because of some of its chemical components. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine belong in the chemical family of methylxanthines. Methylxanthines block receptors in your body that make you feel sleepy. Because of this, theobromine and caffeine are stimulants.

These complicated chemical names might sound a little startling, but they’re nothing to be afraid of—if you’re human. Our bodies metabolize theobromine and caffeine without much hassle. For dogs and many other animals, their bodies struggle to process these chemicals, especially theobromine. Dogs take significantly less time to metabolize caffeine than theobromine, but both chemicals are harmful to them. Ingesting theobromine, even in relatively low dosages, can make dogs sick.

Dosage Matters

Stack of chocolates with bites
Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

We all know a story of a dog who ate a kid’s chocolate Easter eggs and turned out fine. Like any other toxin, however, the dosage of theobromine in comparison to body size is what matters. A Shih Tzu who ate a chocolate bunny will get sicker than a Golden Retriever who ate the same chocolate bunny.

The purity and quality of chocolate will also determine how sick a dog gets. A dark chocolate bar is more toxic than a milk chocolate bar because there is a higher concentration of theobromine and caffeine in the dark chocolate.

Body weight/size + concentration of theobromine in chocolate = determines toxicity

Keep in mind that solid chocolate bars that you might buy at a gas station aren’t the only ways for your dog to get enough theobromine to make them ill. Cocoa powder has very high concentrations of theobromine, as does unsweetened baking chocolate.

Other sources of chocolate that could make your dog sick (especially if they are small) include hot chocolate mix, pudding (homemade, prepackaged, and instant), chocolate milk, brownies (homemade or box mix), chocolate chip cookies, frosting, and other baked goods and chocolate-based confectionery.

Symptoms

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs will depend on how much chocolate they’ve eaten, as described above. In milder dosages, a dog will probably feel ill in general. They may throw up, have diarrhea, or be hyperactive and restless (due to the fact they’ve ingested a stimulant). In more severe cases, a dog may experience tremors and an “elevated or abnormal heart rate.” Chocolate poisoning can even cause seizures and eventually lead to death.

What to do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate

If you think your dog has consumed chocolate, the most important thing to do is remain calm. Call your veterinarian for help. If you live in Canada or the United States, you could also call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control line at (888) 426-4435.

Dog being examined by a veterinarianTry to determine how much chocolate your dog ate, as well as what it was (a brownie, Easter candy, etc.). Knowing what your dog ate can help your veterinarian determine the best treatment for your dog.

Your veterinarian may ask you to keep an eye on your dog and watch for symptoms, or they may want you to bring your dog to his or her office right away. Treatment may include inducing vomiting in your dog to expel the chocolate from their system, as well as giving them activated charcoal to soak up the toxins so it can pass through your dog’s body without causing more damage (never do this yourself). More severe cases may require other treatments, such as medications or intravenous therapy (like an IV bag).

Alternative Treats

At this point, you should know the answer to the question “can dogs eat chocolate?” It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be giving your dog chocolate as a treat (save it for yourself)! One common alternative to chocolate as a treat is carob. Carob comes from the carob tree and is native to the Mediterranean region. The tree pods are dried and ground up to make carob powder.

You may have seen carob powder or chips at your local health food store. Carob chips are dark brown and look a lot like chocolate chips, but the similarities end there. Carob is less bitter than pure chocolate, and it even has a “naturally sweet flavor.” Carob is safe for dogs to eat, unlike chocolate. You may have also seen carob-chip dog cookies or carob drop treats at your local pet store. If you want to give your pooch a chocolate-looking treat, carob could be an appropriate alternative.

However, your dog would probably be just as happy with a more easy-to-find treat than they would a carob-chip cookie. Talk to your veterinarian or visit your local pet store for advice in finding a healthy and tasty treat your dog will love. You can even make dog treats at home!

Veggies make good snacks for dogsYou don’t have to buy expensive treats to make your dog happy, though. Personally, my dog enjoys crunchy vegetables like carrots and cauliflower as treats. She also loves banana and, of course, a tidbit of plain, cooked chicken (white meat). These ‘people foods’ are all stuff you’ve probably got in your fridge right now. Fruit, vegetables, and plain, low-fat meats are all nutritious, low-calorie, and affordable ways to treat your dog.

Whether a treat is homemade, store-bought, or just a piece of carrot, portion control is essential. Treats are a supplement to a dog’s regular meals, so keep the treat intake in balance with their meals, age, and activity level.

Other Foods to Avoid

Chocolate isn’t the only snack dogs shouldn’t be eating. Grapes, along with their dried raisin counterparts, are extremely toxic to dogs. We aren’t quite sure of the chemical in grapes that makes dogs sick yet, but we do know that ingesting enough of them can be fatal.

Onions and other members of the onion family are also dangerous to dogs, and they cause damage in the bloodstream by killing red blood cells.

Macadamia nuts affect a dog’s mobility and digestive system.

Xylitol is an artificial sweetener commonly found in reduced sugar or sugar-free candies, gum, breads, cakes, cookies, and even some peanut butters. In high enough dosages, xylitol can cause liver failure.

Alcohol causes enough problems in people as it is, so it should go without saying that it’s bad for your dog too.

Other foods dangerous to dogs include avocado, cooked bones (may splinter in the mouth while chewing on them), other caffeinated food and beverages like coffee, and the stems and leaves of tomato and rhubarb plants.

If you have any questions about what is or what isn’t safe for your dog to eat, your veterinarian would be more than happy to teach you!

How to Prevent Chocolate Poisoning

The best treatment for chocolate poisoning (and the ingestion of other toxins) in dogs is prevention. Make sure that anything containing chocolate is stored in containers or sealed bags and put away in their proper place after using them. Make sure other people in your house, including children, follow this practice.

This practice is kind of like keeping cleaning solutions out of the reach of small children by storing them in cupboards where they cannot reach. Keeping dangerous foods securely stored away is especially important if your dog has figured out how to open counter cupboards or is tall enough to snatch a snack from the kitchen counter.

Another critical thing to do is to teach your dog to “Leave It.” Leave It is an important and useful command because it’ll keep your dog from grabbing and eating things they find, whether that thing is a chocolate cupcake or a dead bird. If you’re worried about leaving your dog unsupervised at home, crate training may be something you could consider.

Holidays, social gatherings, and hosting guests are busy times in which we might forget to do the things we usually do. Dogs and other pets are more likely to get sick during holidays because we typically have more tasty treats like chocolate around the house. Make sure your guests, including children, know not to feed your dog(s) or other pets table scraps.

In Conclusion

We’ve answered the question “Can dogs eat chocolate?” and learned that chocolate is never safe for dogs. The stimulants in chocolate, theobromine, and caffeine, are difficult for their bodies to metabolize (especially theobromine) and can cause them to become sick. Not all chocolate contains the same amount of theobromine.

Stronger/darker chocolates, like cocoa powder and baking squares, are much more lethal than chocolate milk or a pudding cup. Overall, the dosage and physical size of your dog will determine how sick he or she gets. Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity. In higher dosages of chocolate, symptoms can include tremors, seizures, and even death.

Chocolate poisoning in dogs is no joke. If you think your dog has ingested chocolate, it’s imperative to call your veterinarian. Try to figure out how much and what type of chocolate your dog ate. Knowing this will determine what has to be done for your dog. Prevention is the easiest way to avoid chocolate poisoning. Ensure any chocolate products are securely stored away before and after use, and make sure your children and houseguests know not to feed the dog chocolate or other dangerous foods like onions, grapes, and foods containing xylitol.

Though chocolate’s off the table for doggie snacks, there’s a variety of other tasty things your dog can eat, available at just about any pet store. Other nutritious and low-calorie snacks include small pieces of banana, carrot, cauliflower, chicken (white meat), cucumber, and many other things you probably already keep in the house regularly.

Dogs love and trust us unconditionally. That means we need to ensure they’re safe from harm. Keeping your pup away from chocolate is one way to ensure they stay happy and healthy for many years to come.

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