Are Small Amounts Of Chocolate Harmful To Dogs?

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Most people realize that chocolate is toxic to dogs.

But dogs do not realize that chocolate is toxic to dogs.

So when your dog sneaks a bite of your cookie or a lap of your hot cocoa, you might panic – until you find out that it takes a higher dose to land your dog in the emergency room.

Some dog parents take this idea and run with it, giving their dogs M&M’s as a treat and offering them bites of brownies.

Or, they’ll report that their dog personally ate a whole box of Valentine’s chocolates and had absolutely nothing happen to them.

I don’t want to be alarmist, but I also want to protect all the dogs. So, here’s why I want you to know that apathy around dogs eating chocolate can be dangerous.

Table of Contents

Why Is Chocolate Bad For Dogs?

Chocolate is toxic to all dogs. No dogs are immune to its effects.

Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical compound similar to caffeine and cocaine. A serving of very dark chocolate can have almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Both theobromine and caffeine in chocolate are stimulants. For humans, this is why we get a little high when we eat chocolate and it lifts our mood.

But dogs metabolize theobromine and caffeine much more slowly so even small amounts can overstimulate their nervous system.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include hyperactivity, shaking, drooling, vomiting, seizures, cardiac arrhythmia (racing heartbeat), and even death.

Exactly How Much Chocolate Can A Dog Eat?

If your dog accidentally gets into some chocolate, you can use a chocolate toxicity calculator to find out if you should seek immediate veterinary care.

Matilda weighs five pounds. One ounce of milk chocolate would be moderately toxic to her and she may need medical attention.

1 ounce of chocolate = 3 Hershey’s miniatures or 2 tablespoons of mini chocolate chips.

Your dog’s symptoms are NOT a good measuring stick for whether or not she needs medical attention. Do not “wait and see.” It takes 30 minutes or more for symptoms to appear because by then, the chocolate will have began to travel past her stomach and theobromine and caffeine will have already entered her bloodstream.

Why Even “Safe” Amounts Spell Trouble

The drug theobromine is fat soluble. Fat soluble substances remain in the body longer than water-soluble substances. They can be stored in and build up in your body fat over time.

That’s why it’s okay to take an overdose of a water-soluble vitamin like vitamin C, but consuming too much of fat-soluble vitamin A can lead to toxicity, even if consumed over a long period of time.

Theobromine has a half-life biological value of 17.5 hours for dogs. That means that in almost a whole day, only half of the drug will be eliminated from your dog’s body.

We don’t know exactly how long it takes for your dog’s body to get rid of theobromine.

If you give your dog a “safe” amount of chocolate today, and another “safe” amount tomorrow, is that okay? Will it have lasting effects beyond an obvious medical emergency?

We don’t know.

Dog foods and medications must be tested for months and months before they’re available on the market. Why give your dog something that you know isn’t safe for them that has no recommended safe dosage when there are so many tasty, dog-appropriate treats available?

Chocolate has no tested safe dosage for dogs.

Theobromine has a half-life of 17.5 hours and is retained in body fat, so it is not immediately eliminated from your dog's body.

Behavioral Consequences Of Giving Your Dog Chocolate As A Treat

So what’s the little harm of a few tiny chocolate chips?

Well, while your dog probably comes running when they hear you rustle any packaging, even if it’s something inedible, they really perk up when they smell or hear something that you always give them.

I can’t remember the last time I ate a whole banana by myself. Both Matilda and Cow each always get a bite. So every time I peel a banana, regardless of how quietly, they appear instantly.

If you habitually give your dog chocolate, she’ll come to believe “that’s for me,” and the odds of her eating unattended chocolate are much greater.

Now, a dog who has never eaten chocolate will probably still eat some if given a chance. But she may, at the very least, hesitate to wonder “what is this stuff?” rather than gulp it down without a thought.

Also, if it becomes a household rule that “dogs can have chocolate sometimes,” your partner, kids, and anyone else who lives with you may decide to offer your dog some, too. So what happens if you give your dog a “safe amount” of chocolate for lunch, and your partner wasn’t home to see that, so they give your dog more chocolate later?

It’s a simple household rule. No chocolate for doggies!

Can I Give My Dog White Chocolate?

Theobromine and caffeine are in cocoa powder. Dark chocolate has the highest concentrations, milk chocolate has less but still enough to be dangerous.

White chocolate has zero cocoa powder, but it is made with cocoa butter, which has a negligible amount of theobromine in it.

However, white chocolate is mostly just fat and sugar. Enough fat could give your dog an acute pancreatitis attack, and enough sugar can eventually give your dog diabetes over time.

So, it’s the safest of all chocolates for dogs, but it’s just not a necessary part of their diet.

Yes, They Do Make Chocolate For Dogs

Have you heard of carob?

It’s used as a chocolate substitute, it’s made from a different plant with similar pods to that of a cacao tree, but it’s totally safe for dogs.

It’s very common for dog bakeries and dog treat companies to use carob to make “chocolate” chip cookies, cakes, and other goodies that dogs can safely eat.

You can get carob chips at Whole Foods and on Amazon (check price.)

What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Chocolate?

If your dog ate a enough chocolate for moderate-to-severe toxicity, get them to the nearest animal hospital as soon as you can. Do not wait for symptoms.

The vet will induce vomiting and will typically administer charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins in their digestive tract.

You should not induce vomiting alone at home unless otherwise instructed by a veterinarian because that may not be enough to prevent absorption of some of the toxins.

If your dog ate a smaller but questionable amount, call your vet, emergency vet, or Pet Poison Helpline.

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Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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