Chocolate toxicity–how much is dangerous?




With all the yummy chocolate goodies being brought in for Christmas cheer, it is easy for US to overdose, but what about when your dog decides those Hershey’s kisses are too much to pass up?  Dark chocolate truffles–oh my!  It is well-known that chocolate is bad for your pets (and, unlike raisins and grapes, ALL dogs can be affected by chocolate).

Theobromine is the compound in chocolate that causes problems.  The amount of theobromine in chocolate is directly related to the amount of chocolate liquor (from Wikipedia: Chocolate liquor is produced from cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted, and separated from their skins. The beans are ground into cocoa mass (cocoa paste). The mass is melted to become the liquor, and the liquor is cooled and molded into blocks known as unsweetened baking chocolate (bitter chocolate).)

Cats and dogs are 5 times more sensitive to the effects of theobrominethan humans, so a piece of dark chocolate is no big deal for us, but can be a huge deal to a small dog or cat!

The clinical signs of theobromine intoxication include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, a racing heart leading to arrhythmia, and possibly death.

Theobromine is found in anything containing chocolate, but the less sweetened chocolates have the most.  Toxic doses of theobromine are 9 mg per pound of dog for mild signs, up to 18 mg per pound of dog for severe signs. Milk chocolate contains 44 mg / ounce of theobromine while semisweet chocolate contains 150 mg per ounce, and baking chocolate contains 390 mg per ounce.

How does that translate into what your dog ate?

9 Hershey’s milk chocolate kisses1 Hershey’s milk chocolate candy bar = 2 Godiva milk chocolate truffles = 1.5 oz of milk chocolate.  This will cause SEVERE clinical signs in dogs 10 pounds or less, but isn’t a big deal in heavier dogs.   If your 50 pound dog eats half a bag of Kisses, he will likely end up with vomiting and diarrhea.

1 Hershey’s Special Dark candy bar (which is 45% cacoa) = 1.5 oz.  Will cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs under 40 pounds.

1 cup Nestle semisweet chocolate chips = 6 oz.  This will cause SEVERE clinical signs in a dog 75 pounds or less, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs over 75 pounds.

4 Ghiradelli 60% Cacao squares = 1.5 oz.  This will cause SEVERE clinical signs in dogs less than 25 pounds, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs under 50 pounds.

1/2 cup baking chocolate (unsweetened) = 2.3 oz.  This will cause SEVERE clinical signs in a dog 75 pounds or less, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs over 75 pounds.

Vomiting can be induced in dogs with 3% hydrogen peroxide.  For a dog 15 pounds and under, give 2 teaspoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide, then wait 15-20 min for your dog to vomit.  If no vomiting has occurred, give another 1 teaspoon.  For dogs 15-30 pounds, give 1 tablespoon 3% hydrogen peroxide.  Can give another 1/2 – 1Tablespoon if no vomiting has occurred in 15 min.  For dogs over 30 pounds, start with 1-2 Tablespoons.  Do not give more than 3 Tablespoons total.

Hydrogen peroxide is NOT recommended to induce vomiting in cats, as it can cause a severe gastritis.  If your cat has eaten something it shouldn’t, please contact your vet or local emergency vet.