Can dogs eat chocolate?

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

There are a number of human foods out there your pooch can eat safely as part of a healthy diet, but equally, there are some that could make your pup very sick. Thankfully, most owners seem to be aware that chocolate is one human food you should definitely not offer to your canine companion. But why is chocolate such a big problem for our pets?

Can dogs eat chocolate?

No, dogs should not eat chocolate nor should they eat anything with cocoa powder in, like brownies.

Chocolate is one of several human foods that are toxic to canines, other examples include coffee, onionsmacadamia nuts, and grapes.

If your dog eats some chocolate, they will probably be sick and may suffer from chocolate poisoning. In severe cases, this could even prove fatal. The risk to your dog varies on their size, how much chocolate they ate, and the kind of chocolate they ate.

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Yet despite the well-known toxicity risk, 1% of owners have admitted to regularly feeding their dog human chocolate. While a tiny piece of chocolate eaten mistakenly might not hurt your dog, regular feeding should never happen. Especially because long-term exposure to chocolate has a potential link to dogs developing acute heart failure.

It’s important that you never feed your dog chocolate to avoid unnecessary pain and sickness for your pooch and to protect their health.

What dog breeds can eat chocolate?

No breed of dog should eat chocolate. Chocolate poisoning can affect any breed of dog.

However, small breeds of dogs are at a far higher risk of serious symptoms and poisoning because they are smaller and have a higher metabolism. The smaller the dog, the less chocolate they can tolerate, and so the smaller the amount of chocolate it takes to cause serious illness.

The toxicity of chocolate is usually based on grams eaten per kilogram of bodyweight. That means a big dog like a mastiff might survive mistakenly eating some chocolate cake, but the same amount will have grave consequences for a toy breed like a Chihuahua.

Some individual dogs are also at greater risk of chocolate poisoning, such as old dogs or pooches with a heart condition.

Is chocolate bad for dogs?

Yes, chocolate is bad for dogs. If your pooch eats some chocolate, they are at risk of chocolate poisoning, also called theobromine poisoning.

Chocolate is bad for dogs because it contains two methylxanthine alkaloids, called caffeine and theobromine. As you know, caffeine stimulates the nervous system, and theobromine has similar effects. Most notably, these chemicals increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and they affect your dog in the same way.

Why can I eat chocolate but my dog can't?

In short, we metabolise things differently. Humans are pretty odd because a lot of the plants we eat are toxic to most other species on the planet. In fact, many of them are even toxic to us in high enough doses. Humans are just able to metabolise them quickly enough that it doesn’t usually cause any ill-effects, and are also good at moderating themselves and what they eat.

Theobromine is toxic to most species of animal, including dogs, cats, mice, and even bears. It’s even toxic to humans in high doses, it just happens we don’t eat enough in one sitting and can metabolise it quickly enough that it’s unlikely to make us sick. Nevertheless, if you ate loads of chocolate in one sitting, you’d probably feel pretty sick even if you weren’t poisoned.

Dogs can’t metabolise theobromine or caffeine as quickly as we do and it stays in their system for over 24 hours. Unhelpfully, the chemical also has an effect that stops a dog’s metabolism.

Dogs are also much smaller than humans, so they have a lower tolerance for chocolate. This means it takes much less Theobromine to be in their system for them to become ill.

Plus, your pooch isn’t evolved to digest sugar effectively, and very sweet foods can make them sick. Not to mention, most pups are lactose intolerant as well. All in all, chocolate just isn’t meant for doggy digestion, and it’s no wonder even a little can cause sickness.

What are the signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs?

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning can vary in severity, just as the effects of chocolate poisoning can range in their effect. The most common symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs are vomiting and diarrhoea. These symptoms usually occur within a few hours of eating chocolate.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs are:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Persistent panting

  • Restlessness

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Tremors

  • Seizures

  • Heart failure

  • Sudden death

Because it takes dogs so long to metabolise the chemicals in chocolate, you need to monitor your dog closely for at least 24 hours to make sure they do not display any signs of illness.

If your dog has eaten some chocolate and displays any symptoms of poisoning you should contact your vet urgently.

How much chocolate is bad for dogs?

Generally, a dog only needs to ingest 20mg of theobromine per 1kg of body weight before they start displaying symptoms. The more they eat, the more severe their sickness. Once your dog eats more than 40mg per 1kg of their body weight, they begin to suffer from cardiac changes, and beyond 50mg they can have seizures.

That means the smaller your pooch, the less chocolate they can ingest before developing a serious illness.

However, some dogs are at greater risk of illness or death due to chocolate poisoning. For instance, an old dog or a pooch with a heart condition are more at risk of sudden death due to the changes to their heart rate caused by eating chocolate.

Can chocolate kill dogs?

Yes, if your dog eats a significant amount of chocolate, it can kill them. This is again due to the theobromine in the chocolate. A lethal amount of theobromine will vary depending on how big your dog is.

How much chocolate will kill a dog?

The severity of their sickness will depend on how big they are, how much chocolate they have eaten, and the kind of chocolate they have eaten. You can use a calculator like this one to assess the risk to your dog.

It’s believed that 100-200mg of theobromine per kg of your dog’s body weight is considered a lethal dose. However, it takes a lot less to make your dog sick.

As we mentioned, smaller and older dogs are more at risk, as well as pooches with a heart condition. However, the kind of chocolate has a big impact on the severity of the situation.

This is because white chocolate has fewer cocoa solids and therefore less theobromine. Meanwhile, dark chocolate or cocoa powder has a higher concentration of cocoa and way more theobromine. That means your dog only needs to eat a small amount of dark chocolate before they become sick.

What do I do if my dog ate chocolate?

The first thing you should do is contact your vet. They will assess the risk to your dog and the correct course of action.

If your dog has eaten the chocolate recently (within 2 hours) the vet might try to induce vomiting to get as much chocolate out of your dog’s system as possible. They may advise you how to induce vomiting at home before bringing your dog into the surgery.

Otherwise, your dog may have their stomach pumped to remove any chocolate they have eaten. They can also be fed activated charcoal which binds with the toxins and prevents them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Your pooch may also be given intravenous fluids to keep them hydrated and try to speed up the excretion of theobromine from their body.

As you can see, most treatments are supportive and only aim to minimise the amount of toxins your dog absorbs.

Sadly, if your dog eats a lot of chocolate at once, they may collapse and even die very suddenly.

That’s why, as with most things, it’s better to prevent the situation from ever occurring. So make sure you keep your chocolate away from the pooch, no matter how big those puppy eyes get.

Instead of chocolate, you can buy dog-friendly “chocolate” which uses ingredients safe for canines to eat. (So no cocoa and no sugar.) Otherwise, you can always try making your own sweet treats for your pooch, like tasty peanut butter pup-sicles.

Recap: Can dogs eat chocolate?

No, dogs should never eat chocolate. Even a small amount can make your pup sick, and there is a risk they could die from chocolate poisoning. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so don’t let your dog eat any chocolate or foods containing cocoa.

That being said, a tiny amount of chocolate won’t be fatal, but it might still make your dog sick. So if your pooch manages to eat a crumb of chocolate cake, or hoovers up a dropped chocolate drop, they should be okay. Just keep an eye on them and contact your vet for advice if they show any signs of illness.

We'd much rather our dogs eat something that's healthy, wholesome and nutritious. So, why not try feeding your dog a complete and balanced meal like Pure? Packed with nutrients, vitamins and minerals to keep your dog healthy and happy, Pure is perfect for providing your pooch with a delicious meal that has no nasty additions.