Contributed by: Stephanie Geisinger, LVT, VTS (ECC), Emergency & Critical Care Specialty Technician

All dogs like chocolate, but they should avoid it.  Methylxanthines are a plant-based group of alkaloid compounds, a few of which are found in chocolate.  Cocoa seeds (chocolate) and theobromine are part of this group, as is caffeine.

Chocolate comes in many forms such as white, milk, semi-sweet/dark, bakers (unsweetened) and cacao beans.  Landscaping companies are even now using cacao bean mulch made from finely ground cacao beans.  The chocolate with the highest risk associated with it due to the total methylxanthine milligram per once is baking (unsweetened) chocolate.  This type of chocolate has the highest theobromine level.

Toxic signs from chocolate can range from little to no effects, mild stomach upset or more severe health risks such as pancreatitis, rapid heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias, tremors, seizure activity and even coma.  Much of the effects of chocolate depend on ingredients such as cocoa level, xylitol and nuts.

Patients at highest risk for having complications/side-effects of chocolate ingestion are dogs with pre-existing heart issues, seizure patients, those prone to pancreatitis (due to fat content in chocolate), brachycephalic breeds (Pug, French Bulldog, Bulldog, Pekinese) and pregnant/nursing dogs.  Methylxanthine crosses the placenta blood barrier and is excreted into milk, which can lead to neonate stimulation.

Due to recirculation in the liver, chocolate may take up to 10 hours for full absorption in the GI tract and can take up to four days to fully metabolize; this leads to prolonged toxic potential.

Symptoms

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst/urination
  • Agitation, anxiousness
  • Ataxia, muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias
  • Coma

What To Do

  • Immediately pick up chocolate product and get away from pet
  • Consult either your veterinarian or a licensed toxicologist at either ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline (855)764-7661

What NOT To Do

  • Do not give over the counter medications to treat symptoms without consulting a veterinarian.
  • Do not induce vomiting at home unless under direct advisement from a veterinarian or from one of the poison hotlines.
    • Hydrogen peroxide used to be the go-to for at home emesis (vomiting) induction. However, recent studies have shown it to cause significant inflammation in the esophagus, which can cause painful/difficulty swallowing, ulcerations in the stomach, and increases the risk of aspiration if the dog fights administration.

Prevention

  • Keep baking supplies, candy bars, baked goods, etc in sealed containers, in the cupboard or otherwise out of your dog’s reach. Remember some animals are very crafty/creative in their search for tasty treats, so think of it as “toddler” proofing your kitchen.

Macadamia Nut Toxicity

The main risk of nuts in chocolate comes from Macadamia nuts.  Other nuts are not as likely to have any issues outside of vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatitis.

The mechanism of toxicity for macadamia nuts is unknown; it has a wide range of what can constitute a toxic dose.

Symptoms

Signs can develop anywhere up to 12 hours post ingestion

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness
  • Agitation, ataxia, tremors, increased body temperature
  • Ascending paralysis, Coma

What To Do

  • Consult either your veterinarian or a licensed toxicologist at either ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline (855)764-7661
  • Seek immediate care if any symptoms are noted

What NOT To Do

  • Do not induce vomiting at home unless under direct advisement from a veterinarian or from one of the poison hotlines.