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The Dangers of Chocolate

Rochelle Campbell, DVM

Everyone is always told that chocolate is bad for dogs and cats, but why? Is one type of chocolate worse than another type? How much chocolate does a pet need to eat before there is a problem?

The main ingredient in chocolate that causes toxicity is theobromine, which is a methylxanthine. Caffeine is also a methylxanthine. When a dog or a cat eats chocolate in toxic amounts, an owner may observe a number of clinical signs including vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity/restlessness, and an increased heartrate. Sometimes an owner may even see muscle tremors, seizures and weakness. These clinical signs typically occur within one to four hours after chocolate ingestion and if a pet does not receive treatment, death may even occur.

Higher concentrations of theobromine and caffeine are found in baking chocolate and darker chocolates. Therefore, it takes less of these for a pet to become toxic if they ingest it. Whether or not a pet will reach toxic levels not only depends on the type of chocolate eaten, but also on the size of the pet. Presumably, a smaller animal will reach toxic levels of chocolate more quickly than a larger animal.

Be safe this holiday season!