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Why chocolate is poisonous to your pet

April 26, 2007 - Amy Jo Hanna-Eckenrode
Okay, so we all know that certain foods and dogs (cats, etc.) don’t mix.

I’ve been receiving some interesting feedback about the different people foods we humans feed our pets including some from the No-No List. Some are concerned. Some amused. Either way, I thought it wise to further discuss some of these foods and related issues.

pug chocolateOne of my favorite reader responses: “I don't get the chocolate. I've heard over and over dogs can't eat chocolate. My dog when I was growing up LOVED it. There was a candy dish, with a lid, which contained Hershey Kisses. When our dog wanted one, she'd nudge the dish with her nose so the rattling or the lid would alert someone to her desire. She never had more than two a day, normally only one. She lived a very healthy life. She never had any health problems and was 17 years old when she died.”

So, let’s address one of the top No-No Foods and the love of my life: CHOCOLATE.

I have always heard that chocolate was bad for your pet but nobody ever told me ‘why’ so I, too, never hesitated to give my girls a couple of M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses. However, the more I learn about ‘why’ chocolate is not good for our fur-babies, the more reluctant I am to feed them anything with chocolate in it.

After reviewing several articles, I am going to share a lot of facts provided by Dog Owners Digest website. They had the most comprehensive, easy to understand explanations:

So, tell me, PLEASE, why is chocolate poisonous to dogs?

In addition to containing a high amount of fat, chocolate contains a naturally occurring stimulant found in the cocoa bean called theobromine. This stimulant affects your pet’s central nervous system as well as the heart muscle. (making your dog hyperactive, in a sense)

If the stimulant theobromine didn’t wreak enough havoc on your pooch’s system, chocolate also contains methylxanthine, a caffeine-like substance.

If ingested in significant amounts, chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death in severe cases.

The darker the chocolate the more potential for problems from methylxanthine poisoning which is why makers of gourmet dog treats dip treats in white chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest methylxanthine content. Baking chocolate contains the highest.

While white chocolate may not have the same potential as darker forms to cause a methylxanthine poisoning, the high fat content of lighter chocolates could still lead to vomiting and diarrhea, as well as the possible development of life-threatening pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition of the pancreas.

If a 50-pound dog eats a teaspoonful of milk chocolate, it's not going to cause serious problems. However, once a dog get a taste of it he craves more (sounds familiar doesn’t it ?!) And, as you know, dogs will go to most any length to get something they want – surfing counters, sniffing out garbage cans, raiding your purse, etc.

If the empty candy wrapper or devilish expression doesn’t give it away, you can recognize that your dog has eaten a toxic dose of chocolate from the symptoms:

Within the first few hours, the evidence includes vomiting, diarrhea or hyperactivity. As time passes and there's increased absorption of the toxic substance, you'll see an increase in the dog's heart rate, which can cause arrhythmia, restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination or excessive panting. In the worst case, this can lead to hyperthermia, muscle tremors, seizures, coma and even death.

Some things to consider. The amount of theobromine and methylxanthine varies in chocolate products. Some has less and some has more. Same with dogs. No two dogs are the same in size, age, weight, condition of health, so how chocolate affects one dog can vary greatly from another.

Even though none of my pets have ever had a bad reaction, I think after learning more about the potential hazards chocolate can have, I’ll keep the M&M’s to myself.

I am looking for: