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I would like to share my Easter chocolate with my dog but have been told that chocolate can be poisonous to dogs. Is that right? What is the difference between the chocolate we eat and chocolate marketed for dogs?

Alison Logan advises…

The chocolate dog treats that you may have seen advertised are safe for dogs because the toxin theobromine has been removed. Dogs absorb theobromine slower than humans, so it quickly accumulates within the body to a toxic level. Initially, this can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but with time can affect the nervous system, heart and kidney function, manifesting as tremors, seizures, hyperthermia, abnormal heart rhythms, and increased thirst and urination. Generally, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher the level of theobromine, so dark chocolate poses a higher risk than milk chocolate, and white chocolate contains a very low level of theobromine.

If a dog is thought to have eaten a worryingly high level of theobromine then a drug will be given to induce vomiting. In a simple case, ongoing treatment with activated charcoal until black faeces are passed will be sufficient, but there may be a need for intravenous fluids if the patient is dehydrated, sedation if seizures occur, and close monitoring for heart abnormalities.

One also has to bear in mind that the wrappings are often eaten as well and could cause an intestinal blockage if they pass through the stomach. Then there is the worry of other ingredients within the chocolate, such as sultanas, which pose a toxic risk in their own right, and not in a dose-dependent fashion.

It is always best to contact your veterinary surgeon for advice as soon as you realise that your dog has eaten chocolate because it can be possible to calculate whether a toxic dose of theobromine has been ingested. Indeed, contact your vet if your dog has eaten anything that is not a dog’s usual food. Providing reassurance that your dog will come to no harm is far better than trying to treat the effects of having eaten a potential toxin several hours previously.

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