Did you know that 80% of adults in the U.S. eat chocolate, and each year Americans eat about 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate? It’s no secret that we love chocolate, and the varieties and different forms they come in make it even more delectable. But certainly not for our pets!
Every responsible pet parent understands the dangers of chocolate and cocoa to their furry babies, we’re smart enough to keep dogs and chocolate apart. But no matter how careful we try to be, things sometimes don’t go as planned.
For instance, you got yourself a creamy and delicious hot chocolate drink from Starbucks, and your dog drank some of it in your absence. How do you react to this, what should you do? Will your dog become ill, what actions should you take? In this article, we discussed the answers to those questions and more.
Why is chocolate so dangerous for dogs?
Chocolate is dangerous because it contains two chemical substances that are toxic to dogs. Theobromine and caffeine are two substances in chocolate that don’t agree with a dog’s system, especially theobromine because it’s solely responsible for chocolate toxicity. Theobromine is a natural stimulant and diuretic, but a dog’s system is unable to efficiently metabolize as quickly as humans.
When a dog ingests a significant amount of theobromine by eating chocolate, the substance doesn’t get broken down quickly enough and stays in the dog’s body for too long, causing symptoms of chocolate toxicity in the process. A dog’s body is very sensitive to theobromine and as small as 20 mg/kg is toxic with effects like increased heart beat, irritability, restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
While caffeine is also present in chocolate, theobromine is the compound responsible for the toxic effects of chocolate in dogs because chocolate contains much smaller amounts of caffeine than theobromine, and dogs metabolize caffeine much faster than theobromine.
What are the main ingredients in hot cocoa?
Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and so is hot cocoa. Despite their differences, chocolate and hot cocoa have a basic ingredient in common; cocoa powder. Many best-selling hot cocoa mixes like Nestle Hot Chocolate, Ghirardelli Chocolate and Swiss Miss Chocolate contain cocoa powder as the basic ingredient, and therefore are extremely unhealthy for dogs.
Here are the 3 primary ingredients found in hot cocoa:
Cocoa powder: this is highly toxic to dogs because it contains significant amounts of theobromine, as much as 26 mg of theobromine per gram. If your dog eats, they may start showing signs of chocolate toxicity 4 to 12 hours after it was consumed, it’s important that you take them to the clinic for immediate vet care.
Milk: dogs can eat milk in very small quantities. However, whole milk and most dairy products contain high levels of fat and can cause stomach upset or pancreatitis.
Sugar: sugar is an optional in hot cocoa, not all hot-cocoa mixes contain sugar. Too much sugar in a dog’s diet can cause very severe health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, etc.
How much cocoa is used in hot chocolate?
There is really no way to tell the exact amount of cocoa in hot chocolate (except it’s homemade hot chocolate), but it’s usually a lot since cocoa powder is the base ingredient. However, you can tell the approximate amount of theobromine in it by using a chocolate toxicity calculator.
If your dog drank hot chocolate, you can use this tool to gauge the amount of theobromine in the drink and know the type of reaction to expect from your dog.
To calculate the amount of theobromine in chocolate, a chocolate toxicity calculator will need you to provide some information such as the type of chocolate your dog ate, the amount it ate, and your dog’s weight.
Why is dark chocolate cocoa more dangerous than milk chocolate cocoa?
Chocolate toxicity depends on the amount of theobromine consumed per dog weight. Chocolate bars or drinks with a negligible amount of theobromine may do no harm to dogs. Since theobromine is the substance responsible for chocolate toxicity, any chocolate that contains high amounts of this substance will be more dangerous to dogs.
Generally, the darker and bitter a chocolate is, the higher the concentration of theobromine. So dark chocolate essentially contains more theobromine than milk chocolate, and that is why it’s more dangerous to dogs. An ounce of milk chocolate contains between 44-60 mg of theobromine, while an ounce of dark chocolate contains about 135 mg of theobromine.
Why does the size of your dog matter?
When determining the toxicity level of chocolate, the size of the dog, type of chocolate and amount that was consumed are very important factors because theobromine poisoning is dose-related and the toxic dose is 20 mg per kg of dog weight. Small dogs are generally more susceptible to chocolate toxicity because only a small amount of chocolate can cause very serious side effects.
For instance, if a 10-pound dog eats 2 oz. of milk chocolate, they will get sick with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, but if a 50-pound dog consumes the same amount of milk chocolate, they will be fine. One ounce of milk chocolate contains between 44-60 mg of theobromine, and recall that the toxic level of theobromine is 20 mg per kilogram of body weight.
Although small amounts of chocolate will cause no negative effect in a large dog, it’s still very important to keep chocolate very far from your dog because their bodies do not have the ability to properly digest theobromine, and the substance will accumulate in their body. Also, a research study revealed that continuous exposure to theobromine will ultimately lead to cardiomyopathy, which is a chronic heart disease that affects the heart muscles, making the heart unable to efficiently pump blood to other parts of the body.
What are signs of chocolate toxicity?
If a dog eats a large amount of chocolate up to a toxic level, here are the symptoms to expect;
- Stomach upset
- Drooling saliva
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Increased rate of breathing
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Muscle tremors
What action should I take?
If you notice that your dog ate chocolate, find out what type of chocolate they ate and the amount. Your vet will need this information before deciding what action to take. You can also use a chocolate toxicity calculator to find out the severity of the situation.
If you have reasons to suspect that your dog ate a significant amount that may be damaging, then you should immediately get in touch with your vet for emergency medical attention. The vet may induce vomiting or use activated charcoal to safely expel the poison from your dog’s system. In very severe cases, IV fluids and other medications may be administered to reverse the effects of the toxin.
How quickly might a dog become ill?
The first signs of chocolate toxicity usually show up within 4 to 12 hours after your dog has eaten it, and it can last for up to 72 hours. The good news is that chocolate toxicity is very treatable and any dog will be fine with immediate and adequate vet care.
What should I do if my dog drinks chocolate milk?
Dogs should never drink chocolate milk because it’s made from ingredients which are not dog-friendly. Chocolate milkshakes are made from milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup, and chocolate syrup is a mixture of cocoa powder (which is highly toxic to dogs), sugar and water. There are sufficiently great amounts of chocolate in chocolate milk, and chocolate milkshake, this makes them as dangerous as chocolate itself or hot cocoa.
Besides chocolate, milk is also not good for dogs, especially in large quantities. Puppies can drink milk from their mothers because they have the appropriate enzymes to digest it, but they often are unable to digest milk from cows and goats. In small quantities, milk may do no harm, but a significant amount may trigger a bout of diarrhea or vomiting. Also, different dogs will tolerate milk to different degrees because like humans, dogs can be lactose intolerant too.
If your dog drank chocolate milk, monitor them very closely and contact your vet or Pet Poison Helpline for assistance. They may experience some digestive distress within a few hours after it was consumed, especially if they have a lot of it. Your vet may require you to bring your dog in for examination and medical assistance.
Can dogs get burned by drinking hot drinks?
Yes, dogs can get burned by hot drinks. A dog’s body can get burned by hot liquid or objects, and their mouth can be scalded if they drink a very hot drink. Burns and scalds can be serious in dogs. The type of burn, it’s location and its depth, are some factors that contribute to the severity of the burn. Burns of any kind should be examined by a veterinarian, this is important as it helps to determine the required treatment.
What is the safest hot drink for a dog?
Hot drinks are not good for dogs because their esophagus is more sensitive to hot drinks than ours. Dogs naturally do not like hot drinks, if you give a dog a bowl of warm water and room temperature water, they will choose the latter and ignore the former. Even during winter time, giving your dog something hot to drink is not a good idea. There are no safe hot drinks for dogs.
My dog drank hot chocolate, should I worry?
Should you be worried if your dog drank hot chocolate? That will depend on the amount they drank and what size of dog you have, however, you probably shouldn’t be too worried because chocolate poisoning is very treatable.
If you can determine the amount of chocolate your dog consumed, you can relay that information to your vet or use a chocolate toxicity calculator to determine the possible reactions to expect. Make sure you monitor your dog very closely during this period and report to your vet if you notice any symptoms of chocolate toxicity.