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Chocolate in Dogs and Cats: A Common Pet Poison: Why Chocolate is Dangerous, Possibly Deadly for Dogs & Cats

Chocolate is one of the most common sweets available for people. There are not too many people who have never enjoyed a chocolate candy bar, chocolate cake, chocolate cookies or other form of chocolate.

Because most people enjoy chocolate, it can be tempting to share our chocolate treats with our pets. However, this may not be advisable. For pets, chocolate can be extremely toxic, potentially resulting in severe and sometimes fatal poisoning.

Why is Chocolate a Poison for Dogs and Cats

Chocolate actually can work as a poison in many different ways for dogs and cats. In mild cases, the high fat and sugar content of chocolate can cause gastrointestinal upset, resulting in an “upset stomach”.

In more severe cases, chocolate can cause a condition known as pancreatitis, an inflammatory response within the pancreas of the dog or cat. Pancreatitis results from the ingestion of high fat foods and chocolate is a food which has a very high fat content.

Pancreatitis in dogs and cats can cause:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lack of appetite
  • dehydration
  • depression
  • abdominal pain
  • death

In addition to acting as a poison for dogs and cats by causing pancreatitis, chocolate also contains a chemical known as theobromine. Theobromine is also a potent poison for dogs and cats and can cause:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • restlessness
  • hyperactivity
  • muscle tremors
  • seizures or convulsions
  • heart arrhythmias which may result in fainting or episodes of dizziness
  • death

How Much Chocolate is Necessary to Result in Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

The amount of chocolate which must be consumed by a dog or cat before the chocolate begins to act as a poison depends on the type of chocolate ingested as well as on the size of the dog or cat.

Different forms of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine. Types of chocolate which contain larger quantities of theobromine are stronger poisons than those containing smaller amounts. Generally speaking, the higher the content of chocolate liquor in the chocolate product, the higher the level of theobromine. Higher levels of theobromine in a chocolate product result in increased toxicity and an increased risk of pet poisoning. Cats may be stressed out and claw at their cat scratcher.

Chocolate used in baking is the form of chocolate with the greatest potential for poisoning a pet. Semi-sweet or dark chocolate is slightly less dangerous than baking chocolate. Milk chocolate followed by chocolate flavored cookies and cakes are the chocolate products least likely to act as a poison for dogs and cats, but these types of chocolate can be quite dangerous as well.

How is Chocolate Poisoning Treated in Dogs and Cats

If the chocolate has been recently ingested, it may be possible to induce vomiting to remove the majority of the chocolate from the stomach and prevent the chocolate from acting as a poison. Vomiting can be induced by administering hydrogen peroxide or ipecac syrup by mouth.

If the chocolate was not ingested recently and has already been absorbed from the stomach, it is likely that affected dogs and cats will need to be hospitalized and treated supportively. This treatment will be necessary until the chocolate has been fully metabolized by the pet and is no longer affecting the body systems of the poisoned dog or cat. This may take up to four days or longer to achieve and is not always successful. Chocolate poisoning in pets can be lethal