Chocolate was known by the Aztecs as a gift from the gods. It is a very popular treat and often accompanies festivities in many forms – coming in heart-shaped boxes, as a hot drink, or as a cake, to name a few. As with many chocolate-infused celebratory events, busy preparations, arriving guests, and last-minute touches make it easy to overlook what the dog might be up to. This makes it easy for your sly four-legged friend to find an opening to jump up on the counter and devour the dessert centerpiece – a chocolate cake. Now, not only is your homemade delicacy ruined, but you’re worried about your dog getting sick from having eaten chocolate!
Why is chocolate poisonous to dogs?
It is commonly known that chocolate is highly toxic to dogs and can be deadly. People can eat lots of chocolate without anything more than a slight stomach-ache. So why is it that chocolate kills dogs?
Chocolate is made from cacao beans which contain a compound called theobromine. This compound is not lost during the processing of the bean. Humans are able to digest theobromine quickly while, in dogs, it can linger in the body long enough to exert its toxic effects. Theobromine mainly targets the nervous system in dogs, causing hyperexcitability, muscle twitches, and seizures. This can progress very quickly to cardiovascular dysfunction and death when too much theobromine is consumed.
What amount of chocolate will cause toxicity in a dog?
There are many different treats that are classified as “chocolate” with different percentages of the cacao component that contains theobromine. You have probably heard of white, milk, and dark chocolate, as well as cocoa powder. These contain different levels of the cacao component mixed with other ingredients, such as sugar and oil, to make the final product. White chocolate will have a very low cacao concentration and contains and only trace amounts of theobromine. If your dog eats this type of chocolate, the worst they’ll probably have to face is an upset stomach!
Milk chocolate and dark chocolate contain a much higher percentage of cacao and will have a higher concentration of theobromine. A commercial milk chocolate bar will contain around 2 milligrams of theobromine per gram, while dark chocolate can contain close to 9 milligrams per gram. The lowest recorded toxic dose of theobromine in a dog is 7 mg of theobromine per pound of bodyweight of a dog (16 mg/kg). Whether your dog gets sick or not from eating chocolate is dependent on the type of chocolate, their bodyweight, and how much chocolate was consumed. For a 50-pound (23 kg) dog, it will take just under one and a half ounces (40 g) of dark chocolate to reach the toxic dose. For a 30-pound (13 kg) dog, roughly half of that amount can cause toxic effects.
Cocoa powder, which is often used in baking, also contains high quantities of theobromine – sometimes higher than dark chocolate. Depending on the brand, cocoa powder can contain from 100 mg of theobromine per ounce, making it one of the most poisonous types of chocolate out there.
What happens if my dog eats chocolate cake? Can chocolate cake kill a dog?
When it comes to chocolate cake, the theobromine concentration will generally be lower than what is found in a chocolate bar. The many ingredients which go into a cake will dilute the overall chocolate concentration, thus lowering the amount of theobromine in each bite. However, you should assume that any chocolate cake will have at least the same amount of theobromine per gram as milk chocolate and comes with all the same toxicity risks!
Keep in mind that some bakers may add dark chocolate garnishes which will greatly increase the theobromine content. The cake may also contain other toxins for dogs, such as raisins. If you are unsure of the cacao content, it is best to bring your dog straight to the vet. That might make for an unpleasant afternoon for you and your pup, but it is better to be safe than sorry – especially since the toxic effects of chocolate can turn deadly quite quickly.
A dog can suffer from chocolate toxicity symptoms in as little as a few hours after ingestion. This manifests as vomiting, excessive thirst, excessive panting, changes in behavior, or seizures.
What should I do if my dog eats chocolate cake?
After eating a toxic dose of chocolate, symptoms can appear within two hours. This is likely to manifest as changes in behavior, and can quickly progress to heart problems. If you find out that your dog has eaten your chocolate cake, you should prevent them from accessing anymore and then call your veterinarian or pet poison control line immediately. They will determine whether your dog needs to be admitted for emergency treatment. Make sure you have all the important information to hand including the type of chocolate that was consumed, how much was consumed, and the bodyweight of your dog.
Your veterinarian will advise as to the safest course of action. If your dog has eaten enough cake for it to be toxic, it’s likely you’ll be asked to attend the clinic. Your veterinarian will examine your dog, looking for symptoms of chocolate poisoning, such as a fast heart rate. If the chocolate cake has been eaten recently enough, your vet might make your dog sick to get the theobromine out before it has been absorbed. Remember, you should never make your dog sick at home unless asked to do so by a vet – it’s not a risk-free procedure and can be dangerous in some instances.
Your vet may also give activated charcoal to neutralize any theobromine still lingering in the stomach and guts or admit your dog for close monitoring overnight to ensure that he is completely stable before going home.
Can my dog eat a chocolate muffin? Can I treat my dog to one chocolate chip?
It is best to not take any chances and never feed any sort of chocolate treat to your canine companion. Something as small as one square from a milk chocolate bar has the potential to make a small dog sick. There are plenty of dog-safe treats that won’t send you on a trip to the vet. Some dogs love to eat fresh fruit such as apples, blueberries, or strawberries. Fresh veggies like carrots, zucchini, or peas can make for good options as well. Keep in mind, however, that your dog should not be getting more than 10% of his daily calories from an unbalanced source!
However, you care to enjoy your chocolate – as a cake, bar, or hot drink – keep all treats carefully stashed away in dog-proofed areas. Additionally, ensure that someone is always keeping an eye out during festive events where desserts are out in the open. Don’t give your dog any opportunity to nab even a little bit of a chocolate treat – they are delicious but best left for people to enjoy!
Featured Image Credit: varintorn, Pixabay