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What to Do if Your Dog Eats Chocolate

Your dog begs for handouts, hoping for a stray scrap to savor. But when it comes to sharing your favorite foods with your canine pal, there’s one snack you have to hold back: chocolate.

The sweet treat can lead to illness and even death in dogs. Vets say it’s one of the most common causes of dog poisoning.

If you think your pooch might've eaten chocolate -- especially the darker kinds -- call your vet right away. She'll ask about your dog’s size, what kind of chocolate he ate, and how much. She might want you to make your dog vomit or simply watch his behavior, says vet Tina Wismer, DVM. She's the medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

A chocolate chip cookie can cause problems for a little dog, and a bag of chocolate chips can spell trouble for a big one.

Your Dog Ate Chocolate. Now What?

Typically, your dog will vomit on his own. If not, your vet might want you to give him hydrogen peroxide to make him throw up -- 1 tablespoon for every 20 pounds, Wismer says. You can use a turkey baster or a medicine dropper to give him the liquid.

Some pet owners bribe their dog with peanut butter in a bowl and the hydrogen peroxide around the rim, she says, seeing as pups tend to lick their bowls clean. Once your dog vomits, don’t give him any food or water.

If you think your dog ate chocolate, don't wait for warning signs, Wismer says. These can take 6 to 12 hours to show up. Symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Too much energy
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Shaking
  • Seizures

The stimulants in chocolate stay in the body a long time. In severe cases, symptoms can last up to 72 hours. Early treatment will help your dog recover quicker and lower your costs, Wismer says.

Vets judge a dog’s condition and then decide on the right treatment, says Joseph Kinnarney, DVM. He's the president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

The most common way vets treat chocolate poisoning is to use fluids and IV drugs, he says. For example, they'll use a drug called apomorphine to force vomiting, stomach pumping to flush the stomach with fluids, and medicine called activated charcoal to prevent the chocolate from getting into your dog’s blood.

Most dogs survive because of quick-acting owners, says Kinnarney, who's also president of the Reidsville Veterinary Clinic in North Carolina.

The ASPCA’s 24-hour poison hotline (888-426-4435) receives about 27 calls a day involving dogs and chocolate. “It’s not the No. 1 thing we get calls about, but it’s way up there,” Wismer says.

No Amount of Chocolate Is Safe

Even a little bit of chocolate can make your dog ill.

Dark chocolates, baking chocolate, and dry cocoa powder are more dangerous than white or milk chocolate. But 1 ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight could still be deadly.

And unlike most cats, which don’t have a sweet tooth, dogs will eat almost anything. They also don’t know when they’re full, Wismer says. “They will eat as much as they can get ahold of. A 10-pound dog can easily eat a pound of chocolate.”

Cocoa Shell Mulch: A Little-Known Danger

Think twice before you spread cocoa shell mulch on your property. It’s dangerous for pets, Wismer says -- especially since dogs like its sweet smell.

Use shredded pine, cedar, or hemlock bark instead, the ASPCA suggests.

Reviewed on February 10, 2015

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