Chocolate poisoning in cats and dogs

photo of cat and dog on white background

Overview

  • Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which is toxic to dogs and cats.
  • The severity of chocolate poisoning depends on the amount and type of chocolate eaten - as a rule, the darker the chocolate, the bigger the risk.
  • If your dog or cat has eaten chocolate, keep the packaging and call your vet immediately.

Why is chocolate poisonous to pets?

Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which is toxic to pets. Theobromine can damage the heart, nervous system, and guts. The severity of chocolate poisoning depends on the amount and type of chocolate eaten - as a rule, the darker the chocolate, the bigger the risk:

  • White chocolate is low risk because it contains very little
    theobromine.
  • Dark chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa beans are high risk because they contain a lot of theobromine.

As some chocolate is more toxic than other types, you can use this handy calculator to give you an idea.

Photo showing chocolate toxicity

Symptoms

Symptoms usually take 2-4 hours to appear, but can take as long as 24 hours. The first signs of poisoning may include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Peeing more than usual
  • Being unusually excited and restless
  • Painful belly.

Signs of poisoning may then progress to:

  • Fast breathing or panting
  • Shaking or trembling
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Seizures
  • A fast heartbeat
  • In the worst cases, chocolate poisoning can lead to heart failure, coma and even death.

When to contact your vet

Without delay, call your vet or ‘Animal Poison Line’ if you suspect your pet may have eaten chocolate. Let them know how much, what type and what time your pet ate the chocolate. Keep any packaging to hand – it will contain useful information. You may be advised to take your pet in for assessment and possible treatment by your vet.

Animal Poison Line is run by veterinary poison specialists. They are available 24/7 and all calls cost £30.

Treatment

It’s important that your pet is treated quickly, before their body has a chance to digest the chocolate. The treatment they receive will depend on how much/what type of chocolate they have eaten, and may include.

  • Induced vomiting - if you can get your pet to the clinic quickly, your vet may give them an injection to make them sick.
  • Activated charcoal - your vet may then give your pet a charcoal meal to absorb any remaining toxins.
  • A fluid drip - depending on your pet's condition, they may need a fluid drip to support their vital organs while their body flushes out any toxins.

Outlook

With the right treatment, most pets make a full recovery, but it’s important to act fast because in some cases, chocolate poisoning can be fatal if treatment is delayed.

Prevention

  • Never feed chocolate to your pets (make sure any children in the house also know not to).
  • Keep all chocolate, and chocolate containing products out of reach - store them in high or locked cupboards.
  • Be particularly careful during Easter, Christmas and other events when there is likely to be lots of chocolate in the house.
  • Avoid using gardening mulches that contain cocoa shell.

Cost

What an expensive snack! Treatment for chocolate poisoning can cost hundreds of pounds (depending on the treatment needed). Consider insuring your pet as soon as you get them (before any problems develop), to ensure you have the financial support you need if they become unwell. It’s also very important to speak to your vet if you can’t afford the treatment they have recommended because there may be other options.

Published: July 2020

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst