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♦Chocolate toxicosis is a common problem in dogs, less so in cats and other pets. Depending on how much chocolate is ingested, the signs can range from a simple tummy upset to more life-threatening problems.

♦Dark chocolate and baking chocolate are more toxic than white chocolate, but all of these should be withheld from pets.


♦Cacao bean mulch, which is used in gardens overseas, can also cause problems.  However since cacao bean is not used in Australian mulch, the risk posed here is considered negligible.

What Is Chocolate Toxicosis?

A toxicosis is any disease due to poisoning. Chocolate contains two ingredients that can be toxic to pets—caffeine, and a chemical called theobromine. While dogs and cats are both very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and theobromine, cats are usually not attracted to chocolate, so chocolate toxicity tends to be less common in cats.

The amount of caffeine and theobromine in chocolate varies with the type of chocolate. A good rule of thumb is that the more bitter the chocolate, the more caffeine and theobromine it is likely to contain. For example, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine than milk chocolate. White chocolate is also potentially toxic but contains less caffeine and theobromine than milk chocolate does.

Signs of poisoning

Clinical signs of chocolate toxicosis can begin to occur within an hour of ingestion. Caffeine and theobromine are both stimulants of the brain and heart, so the clinical signs can include hyperactivity, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, and potentially death. Other signs include the following: 
- Vomiting
- Diarrhoea
- Chocolate smell on breath
- Lethargy (weakness/tiredness)
- Panting
- Anxiousness, restlessness, and pacing
- Seizures
Complications associated with chocolate toxicosis can lead to death within 24 hours of ingestion.

Diagnosis

Caffeine and theobromine can be detected in the stomach contents and blood of animals that have eaten chocolate, but diagnosis of chocolate toxicosis is usually based on evidence that the pet has eaten chocolate. You may find wrappers or other evidence that the pet has eaten something.

If chocolate ingestion is suspected, call us immediately! Based on your pet’s weight and an estimate of the amount of chocolate eaten, we are able to calculate the amount of caffeine and theobromine that was ingested and determine if your pet is at risk for a toxic reaction. For example, if a large dog eats a few small pieces of milk chocolate, the amount ingested may not be enough to cause a problem. However, if a small dog eats one or two squares of bittersweet baking chocolate, this could be an emergency. Don’t forget that chocolate can have other dangerous components. For example, macadamia nuts and raisins are also toxic to animals, so be sure to tell us if the chocolate that your pet ate contained any other ingredients.

Use this easy calculator to quickly assess the risk of chocolate toxicosis in the event your pet does eat some:

 

Treatment

As soon as you discover that your pet has eaten chocolate, contact us immediately. If your pet ingested enough chocolate to be dangerous, immediate treatment will be recommended. If the ingestion is detected early enough, we will usually be able to induce vomiting to clear the chocolate from the stomach before it gets absorbed. Further care, including hospitalisation for cardiovascular monitoring, may still be recommended. Sometimes it may be too late to induce vomiting. Instead, we may administer activated charcoal to your pet. This is given by mouth and limits further absorption of anything in the stomach and upper intestines. We may also recommend hospitalisation for administration of intravenous fluids (to help remove the chemicals from your pet's system) and for monitoring. Because caffeine can be reabsorbed by the bladder wall, keeping your pet’s bladder empty can also help speed up recovery time. This is managed by frequent walking or by placing a urinary catheter.

Prevention

Dogs have a tremendous sense of smell and tend to be very curious about their surroundings. If there is chocolate in your home, there’s a good chance that your dog will find it and eat it. This means that leaving chocolate on a bench top or on a coffee table puts your pets at risk. Make sure to keep all tempting chocolate treats away from your pets!