Chocolate Toxicity: What To Do If The Dog Finds Your Stash

Despite what our Nannas might insist, we all know Easter is all about the chocolate. Unfortunately, it can be very dangerous for pets. How much is too much and what should you do if your dog eats chocolate?

How much is safe?

One of the common questions we receive after a suspected chocolate raid is how much is safe?  So long as you know how much was eaten and what sort of chocolate it is, it is relatively easy to work out if your pet is in danger.

The general rule is the darker it is, the more dangerous it is. Dark, bitter baking chocolate can be up to 8 times as toxic as milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is not as toxic as dark chocolate, and white chocolate contains very little of the chemical of concern, which is theobromine.

For a great chocolate calculator visit here. Of course, we need to add in a disclaimer: the calculator is a simplified tool and does not account for any individual variation in sensitivity. In particular an older pet with a heart condition, pancreatitis or kidney problems could be more sensitive to smaller amounts.

When such calculators work out the toxic dose, it is based on the LD50, or the fatal dose that causes 50% of canine patients to suffer a fatal outcome. So if your pet is even close to the dangerous level, err on the side of caution and get them to the vet as soon as possible.

Other factors that may impact your pet include whether there were any other ingredients such as caffeine, sultanas, macadamias and xylitol (also toxic to pets and used as an artificial sweetener). Many pets are very sensitive to rich and fatty foods and will get a nasty bout of pancreatitis or gastroenteritis from overindulging. Also, pets that gobble the whole lot so quickly that they eat wrappers, foil and plastic are more susceptible to a foreign body problem as well.

What does chocolate do to dogs?

Chocolate contains theobromine which is a methylxanthine that stimulates the heart and nervous system while relaxing smooth muscle. The low grade signs of poisoning often include vomiting, diarrhoea, panting, restlessness, hyperactivity and increased heart rate.

At higher doses neurological signs such as tremors, seizures, coma and death can occur. Often it takes a few hours to develop the dangerous symptoms and as theobromide has a long half-life it can take a few days for pets to improve even with treatment.

What should I do?

If you have reason to suspect your pet has eaten chocolate, get them to the vet immediately. If there is a chance that the chocolate is still in the stomach, inducing vomiting quickly is cheap, effective and safe. Usually if the consumption was within an hour, inducing vomiting solves the problem. Insider tip: vets don’t mind making chocolate-eaters vomit – it smells so much nicer than the usual vomit!

Can I make my dog vomit at home?

There are many ways we have heard of to induce vomiting. Unfortunately, some are almost as dangerous as the toxin itself. Get it wrong and you could end up in an even worse situation. So while we don’t recommend inducing vomiting yourself, if there is no way to get to your vet, here are a few precautions:

  • Never try to induce vomiting if your dog is not fully awake and able to swallow properly.
  • Never induce vomiting in a dog having seizures.
  • Never induce vomiting if your dog has eaten anything caustic that will cause damage on the way up. If you are unsure, ring Poisons Information on 131126.
  • Never give salt water or hydrogen peroxide. These can be very dangerous to pets.
  • Never give anything orally to a vomiting dog (sounds obvious, I know!).
  • Never try to get a cat to vomit at home, save that for the vet.
  • If you try washing soda crystals (advice below) and your dog doesn’t vomit after one dose of crystals, do not administer more.
  • Inducing vomiting is really only a good option if you are more than an hour from your vet or emergency centre and you know for sure what your pet ate.
  • Once you have induced vomiting, avoid giving any food or water for a couple of hours at least.

The safest way to induce vomiting at home is using washing soda crystals (sodium carbonate). This is not baking soda and is only something you would have around if you make your own washing powder or have hard water. The common brand name in Australia is Lectric and it looks like this:

Lectric Washing Soda

Lectric Washing Soda

Just make sure you are not using any other washing products besides washing soda (and especially not caustic soda!).

Just use one small crystal for a small dog. The dose is 1cm3 per 20kg, so you don’t need to use much. In fact you don’t even need to make your dog swallow it, just pop it on your dog’s tongue and hold the mouth closed so it dissolves on the tongue.

It should work within 10 minutes, so don’t administer any more if it doesn’t work immediately. If it doesn’t work within 15 minutes, get in the car and get yourself to your vet.

What if my dog ate the chocolate more than an hour ago?

If the ingestion was a while ago, inducing vomiting is probably not going to help. In this case, if you know it is a potentially toxic dose, get your dog to the vet for treatment. If you are not sure the amount eaten, just err on the side of caution and seek treatment.

Just make sure to call your vet and let them know you are on the way so they can prepare for your arrival. They will usually recommend an overnight stay, fluids and monitoring for seizures and heart problems. Chocolate is rarely fatal when treatment is started early.

Dogs have such a wonderful sense of smell and a tendency to be very experimental with what they eat. For some more common toxins in pets, visit here. And play it safe, keep the chocolate well out of reach.