Trick or Treating Prep: Is Chocolate Really Bad For My Dog?

Halloween is just around the corner which means there’s likely going to be an influx of tasty treats in your house. Chocolate is arguably the most well-known of human foods that are not safe for our pets to eat, but is it actually as bad for dogs as people say it is? Keep reading if you want to get to the bottom of this much-talked-about topic.

Can dogs eat chocolate?

The short answer is no, dogs absolutely cannot eat chocolate.
This is because caffeine and theobromine, two of the chemicals found in chocolate,
are toxic to dogs.

What makes these two chemicals toxic is due to how slowly a
dog’s body processes them – especially theobromine. To put it in perspective,
it takes a dog 17.5 hours to eliminate half of the theobromine in their body
after they ingest it, whereas it only takes humans 2-3 hours.

After a dog eats chocolate, the first thing you’ll notice is the
sudden onset of extreme excitement – imagine a child who is allowed to eat all
of their Halloween candy as soon as they get home from trick or treating. After
this period of extreme excitement, you’ll notice symptoms such as vomiting,
diarrhea, or in more serious cases, seizures, tremors, irregular heart rate,
heart attack, and internal bleeding.

Why does chocolate
affect some dogs more than others?

The answer to this question is a bit more complicated as it has
to do with both the size of your dog and their genetics.

Theobromine poisoning is measured in milligrams per kilogram of
body weight, with mild symptoms appearing after ingesting 20 mg/kg, severe
signs at 40-60 mg/kg and a lethal amount falling between 100-200 mg/kg. It’s
very important to note that since each milligram ‘dose’ is measured per
kilogram of body weight, what is considered a low dose for a large dog could be
a very high dose for a small dog.

In other words, if you have a dog that weighs only 5kg, then
ingesting 20mg of theobromine is going to have much more serious consequences
than for a dog that weighs 50kg.

That doesn’t mean that if you have a big dog it’s okay for them
to have the occasional piece of chocolate, however. Research has shown that
repeated theobromine ingestion can lead to the development of a chronic heart
disease called cardiomyopathy, which can be deadly. What’s more, another study
found that some dogs have a genetic variant that makes them lack the ability to
break down some substances, including theobromine. This means that regardless
of their size, they can become incredibly sick after eating very little
chocolate.

What should I do if my
dog eats chocolate?

If you know exactly how much chocolate your dog has consumed, for example, if a full-sized chocolate bar suddenly disappeared from your counter, then you can check an online calculator to figure out whether they’ve eaten enough for it to be of concern. You can also call the animal poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435 to speak to a professional who can help you assess the situation and next steps.

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate but aren’t sure how
much, or if they are pregnant, have underlying health issues, or are displaying
symptoms, then you’ll want to take them to the vet immediately.

When you get to the vet, the first thing they’ll do is empty
your dog’s stomach using a quick-absorbing medicine called apomorphine. Next,
your dog will be given activated charcoal that will bind to the theobromine and
stop it from being absorbed into the body. Depending on the amount of chocolate
consumed, they may need to repeat this step multiple times.

After this, your vet will look at the individual symptoms and if
necessary, prescribe medicine to manage them.

Can cats eat chocolate?

Interestingly, theobromine is actually more toxic to cats than
dogs but you don’t hear much about keeping chocolate away from them because
cats are significantly more picky about what they eat than dogs. What’s more,
cats are actually missing the “sweet” taste receptors so are neither attracted
to or disgusted by sweet items like chocolate – they simply don’t care about
them.

How can I keep my dog
away from Halloween candy?

Whether you have young children in the house or not, there’s a
good chance that you’ll have a decent amount of candy at home around Halloween.
Even if your dog doesn’t usually try to steal people food, it’s better to be
safe than sorry and keep all Halloween treats out of reach. Some ways to do
this include:

  • Set guidelines
    around where candy can be eaten:
    This is especially important if you have
    young children who may leave unfinished candy or wrappers around the house. By
    setting guidelines around where candy can be eaten – for example in the kitchen
    at the table – you reduce the chance your dog will find stray candy around the
    house.
  • Keep it out of
    reach: The best place to store Halloween candy is in a container with a secure
    lid, either behind a cupboard door or high enough it is out of reach. Don’t
    underestimate your pup’s willpower when they want a treat – it’s not unheard of
    for dogs to open lower cupboards or jump on counters!

Your dog may not be able to help you get through all those tasty little chocolate bars, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a special treat this Halloween. Skip the chocolate and instead offer them one of our fresh treats instead!

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