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Protect Your Pet by Teaching Your Children About Chocolate Safety

Tim Boyer's picture
Too much chocolate

My wife and I consider our two dogs as members of our family and hence receive as much medical care and nurturing as our children do. As such, we, like many other dog owners are well aware of the dangers of chocolate on a dog’s health. However, just recently it occurred to me that our children are not so aware about chocolate safety in a home with dogs.

As I was sitting in a recliner a few evenings ago, I noticed that my Australian Shepard pup “Sammy” was paying an inordinate amount of time nosing around a nearby end table. On closer inspection I found that my daughter had left behind the last of her milk chocolate bunny - a chunk of solid chocolate measuring approximately 4 cubic inches―on the end table. A visual inspection of Sammy’s mouth and noting only human-like gnaw marks on the chocolate, reassured me that Sammy had not eaten any chocolate. Disaster averted.

But this got me thinking. What if Sammy had eaten the chocolate? Did I know how much was too much? Did I know that the chocolate type mattered? Nope, on both counts. Which meant that in all likelihood I would have made a late-night (and expensive) emergency trip to our vet, just as I have done with my children on more nights than I care to remember repeating the parenting mantra “Better safe than sorry, better safe than sorry.”

According to the FDA, the reason why chocolate is toxic to dogs is that it contains a compound called theobromine―a naturally occurring stimulant found in the cocoa bean similar to caffeine that is toxic to dogs at particular levels. Incidentally, it turns out that chocolate at high enough levels results in chocolate toxicosis in humans too, but because our bodies metabolize theobromine much quicker than dogs can, it is safer for us than for dogs.

Factors that determine whether a dog will have a toxic reaction from eating chocolate include:

• The size of the dog
• The amount of chocolate the dog ate
• The type of chocolate the dog ate
• Whether the dog in question is extra sensitive to theobromine

Signs of theobromine toxicity range from mild to severe that manifest with some or all of the following: Vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity and restlessness, rapid heart rate, frequent urination, muscle spasms and/or seizures.

While we cannot know the sensitivity our pet has to theobromine, we can however make a fair approximation of whether the amount eaten warrants an emergency trip to a veterinarian.

Animal health experts state that the minimum amount of theobromine dangerous to dogs ranges from 46 to 68 milligrams of theobromine per pound of pooch. Studies have shown that when a dog consumes 114 to 228 mg per pound of body weight, that there is a 50% chance the dog will die.

So, how much chocolate does this translate to? Depending on the type of chocolate the numbers vary. From the highest content of theobromine to the lowest content of theobromine, chocolate types rank as follows:

• Baking Chocolate: 6,240 mg/pound (390 mg/ounce)
• Semisweet chocolate: 2,400 mg/pound (150 mg/ounce)
• Milk chocolate: 704 mg/pound (44 mg/ounce)

Therefore, to reach the lower end of the dangerous dose of theobromine, a dog would have to eat:

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• 1 ounce of baking chocolate per 9 pounds of your dog’s body weight
• 1 ounce of semisweet chocolate per 3 pounds of your dog’s body weight
• 1 ounce of milk chocolate per 1 pound of your dog’s body weight

In Sammy’s case, eating 1/12 of a 12 inch by 4 inch by 1 inch solid chocolate Easter bunny would have exposed his 50-pound body to only 1 ounce of milk chocolate (44 mg of theobromine)—no problem. In fact (much to my surprise) he could have eaten the whole chocolate bunny (12 ounces of milk chocolate) and still be okay—theoretically.

To put this into the context of a much smaller dog such as an 8-pound Chihuahua for example, it could eat one regular 1.5 ounce milk chocolate candy bar and still be okay--however, this does not mean that he would not become a pretty sick puppy afterward for a couple of days. Furthermore, it is possible that he may be among those dogs that are overly sensitive to even low levels of theobromine and still die. But from the numbers provided by animal health authorities, a Chihuahua most likely would not survive eating an entire (12 ounce) solid milk chocolate bunny or only 1 ounce of baking chocolate.

Which brings up another point concerning dogs and chocolate. While some dog owners will argue that since it takes a significant amount of milk chocolate to poison a dog, that it is okay to give them a small chocolate treat once in a while. Aside from a possible predisposition for sensitivity to chocolate, animal health experts still say that this practice is a no-no because it could cause your dog to develop a taste for chocolate and encourage him to actively seek out chocolate on its own—such as when children hide Easter candy around the house from their siblings.

If you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate, follow the parenting mantra of “better safe than sorry” and consult with your vet immediately with the following information:

1. How much chocolate in ounces the dog potentially ate (the package wrapper will provide this info)
2. When the chocolate was consumed
3. What type of chocolate was it—milk, semi-sweet or baking chocolate
4. The age of the dog and how much it weighs
5. Signs and symptoms the dog may be exhibiting

The important factor is time. If the vet can get to your dog within two hours, the chances are good that he or she can induce the dog to vomit and significantly decrease the chocolate exposure. After two hours, the chocolate is already in the lower digestive tract and being absorbed.

The important point is that to ensure your dog is kept out of harm's way with unintentional chocolate poisoning, explain to your children about chocolate safety and why pets cannot always eat the same types of food they do--or vice versa.

For more information on dogs and food safety, follow the links to other relevant articles listed below:

Top Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe and Satisfied at Dining Table

How to Avoid the Top Ten Pet Dangers During the Holidays

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: German Shepherd Rescue of New England— “Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs”