Vet Q&A: What should I do if my dog eats chocolate this Easter

by PDSA | 31 March #VetQ&As

It’s important to be extra careful at Easter when there might be more chocolate in the house, or garden if you’re planning an Easter egg hunt for the children. The last thing you want is for your pets to get their paws on these dangerous treats.

It’s not uncommon for pet owners to share their food and leftovers as a ‘treat’, which is fine – when done safely and in moderation.  But worryingly,  according to our PAW Report, tens of thousands of pet owners give human chocolate regularly to their dog, despite its toxicity.

Most commonly its dogs that we see brought through the doors of our hospitals for chocolate poisoning, but other pets such as cats and rabbits should also stay clear of chocolate for similar reasons.

 

Why does chocolate make dogs poorly?

Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which is toxic to dogs. Theobromine doesn’t break down in a dog’s digestive system in the same way it does in ours, which makes them sensitive to the chemical.

It’s not just chocolate bars that you need to look out for, cocoa in cakes or biscuits and processed chocolates could cause the same reaction. Be sure to keep your Easter eggs out of reach, dogs will have no problem breaking open those boxes, if they get the chance.

Theobromine isn’t the only concern, chocolate also contains caffeine, sugar and fat, all ingredients that don’t suit pets.  The high fat content of chocolate can lead to pancreatitis – an inflammation of the pancreas - which can be extremely serious and fatal if left untreated. 

Will a small amount effect my dog?

The type and the amount of chocolate that your dog has eaten in relation to their size is very important when working out what affects you may see.  A large dog such as a Labrador may not be badly affected by eating a small amount of milk chocolate, however, if a Chihuahua ate the same amount that could potentially be very dangerous for them.  

If your dog has eaten any chocolate, call your vet for advice. If your pet receives treatment quickly, it lowers the chance of your pet becoming seriously ill.

What symptoms might my dog have?

Don’t wait for symptoms to occur; if you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, seek help from your vet as soon as possible.  However, symptoms that you may see as a result of eating chocolate are:

 

What should I do if my dog has eaten chocolate?

  1. Call your vet and follow their advice. It's useful for your vet to know how much has been eaten and what type of chocolate they've had; show your bet the packaging if you have it.
  2. Visit our Pet Health Hub, this provides all the information you'll need about chocolate poisoning, so you can understand signs, symptoms and treatments. You can also work out the toxicity level of what your dog has eaten using this chocolate toxicity calculator.
  3. You can call the pet poison helpline. There is a charge to use this service but they’re open 24 hours a day to offer advice to worried owners who think their pet could have eaten something poisonous.  

 

What treatment might my dog need?

If your vet is concerned that your dog has eaten a high dose of chocolate that could potentially be toxic, they will want to start treatment straight away. Ideally get to your vet within 2 hours of them eating the chocolate (the sooner the better to reduce the amount of toxin absorbed) but even if it’s been longer, treatment can still help.  Your vet may want to make your pet vomit, so they bring up the chocolate that’s been eaten.  If caught early enough then your pet may be able to be discharged home, without any further tests or treatment.  However, your vet may prescribe activated charcoal, which stops your dog from absorbing any more theobromine into their system.

If your vet is concerned the amount of chocolate that your dog has eaten may leave them at risk of serious side effects, or if they are already showing signs such as an abnormal heart rhythm, additional treatments may be recommended. These could include hospitalisation on intravenous fluids and blood tests.

You can find many more potentially deadly foods on our poisons and hazards page.

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Share this article on:  PDSA | 31 March

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