Why is chocolate bad for dogs?
Chocolate can be harmful to dogs because it contains a chemical called theobromine as well as caffeine. Both of these compounds can cause stomach upset including vomiting and diarrhea, increased urination, restlessness or hyperactivity. At higher amounts they can also cause increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and even neurologic signs such as tremors, stumbling, seizures and even death. Cocoa powder is the ingredient which contains the toxic compounds so the higher the percent of cocoa in a chocolate preparation, the more toxic it will be. For example white chocolate actually contains none to very little cocoa so it is non-toxic and milk chocolate is less toxic than dark chocolate. Baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder are very toxic.
The toxic effect depends on how much chocolate is ingested as well as what type of chocolate it is. Small amounts of chocolate usually lead to vomiting and diarrhea whereas large amounts or concentrated amounts of chocolate cause the more serious signs. Dogs are not able to metabolize the theobromine in chocolate as quickly as people do so it builds up in their bodies to toxic levels. Smaller dogs are more at risk of developing signs than larger dogs and some animals are more sensitive than others.
If you are concerned that your pet has ingested chocolate or is showing any of the signs of chocolate ingestion it is very important to call your veterinarian. She can help you to decide whether the amount and type of chocolate ingested warrants a trip to the veterinary hospital. Sometimes it takes 12-24 hours for an animal to show signs of chocolate overdose. If your pet has signs of chocolate toxicity, treatment will depend on the signs that they are showing but may include induced emesis (initiation of vomiting), giving activated charcoal to help bind the toxins before they are absorbed into the body, IV fluid administration to flush out the body and prevent dehydration, medication and hospitalization.
In addition to the toxic compounds, chocolate is high in fat and sugar which can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This can be seen even with non-toxic amounts of chocolate so it is best to prevent your pet from eating any chocolate.