Around certain holidays, like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, there tends to be more chocolate lying around people’s houses than usual. The worst thing that chocolate can do to us as humans is add a few inches to our waistline, but certain types of chocolate—even in very small amounts—can be deadly to animals.

Why is chocolate so dangerous for pets?

Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant that negatively affects both the central nervous system and the heart. The amount of theobromine required to kill an animal depends upon the animal’s weight, age, and level of health.

What are the symptoms of chocolate poisoning?

If your pet has eaten enough chocolate to cause possible chocolate poisoning, she will show symptoms similar to those of a person who has drunk way too much caffeine. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Convulsions, if the poisoning is severe

The best-case scenario if your pet has gotten into chocolate—even just a small amount—is that she will get sick and suffer from vomiting and diarrhea. More severe cases might cause increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and possibly even death.

What should I do if my pet is showing these symptoms?

Contact your veterinarian immediately; chocolate poisoning is definitely an emergency. We at the SAEC are always happy to talk to you over the phone about how severe your pet’s consumption of chocolate might be. We will need to know approximately how much chocolate your pet consumed, what kind of dog or cat you have (including her weight if possible), and what kind of chocolate it was. Based on this information, we can calculate your pet’s probable chocolate toxicity level.

How will you treat my pet for chocolate toxicity?

If your pet has a severe case of chocolate poisoning and you bring her to the SAEC, the usual course of treatment is to induce vomiting and then administer activated charcoal, which the pet swallows. Once the activated charcoal hits the stomach, it begins to soak up any toxins in the digestive tract that the body has already started to absorb.

In some cases, if enough time has passed since the pet consumed the chocolate or if too much has been digested by the time you get her to the clinic, treatment might also require hospitalization.

Can I just make my pet throw up at home?

There are no safe ways to induce vomiting at home. The most common home remedies you might have heard or read about include the use of hydrogen peroxide or salt. However, both of these products can cause complications that have the potential to be worse than the chocolate poisoning itself.

How much chocolate does it take to kill a pet?

Some types of chocolate are much more dangerous than others because of the amount of theobromine they contain.

  • The least dangerous type is white chocolate: it has 1mg of theobromine per ounce (a normal-sized, convenience store candy bar is somewhere around 1.5 ounces).
  • Liquid cocoa contains 12mg of theobromine per ounce.
  • Milk chocolate contains 60mg/oz.
  • Dark or semi-sweet chocolate contains 260mg/oz.
  • Baking chocolate contains 450mg/oz.

Obviously, then, baking chocolate is considerably more toxic than white chocolate. Here’s a chart that might be useful:

As you can see, it would be virtually impossible for a small pet to get chocolate poisoning from white chocolate. (This doesn’t mean that eating an entire bar of white chocolate won’t make your pet very sick.) Dark chocolate and baking chocolate, on the other hand, are much more potent; thus, it is likely that any pet that gets into one of these types will get chocolate poisoning to some degree.

It’s also important to remember that not all candy bars are equally dangerous; often the amount of danger depends upon what the candy is filled with. A Reese’s peanut butter cup, for example, might weigh 0.8 ounces, but part of that is peanut butter. A bag of Hershey’s Kisses, on the other hand, is pure chocolate (and foil, of course, which doesn’t do the body much good, either).

A couple of final things to keep in mind…

1. It’s not just candy bars that are dangerous; it’s chocolate in general. Brownies, chocolate cake, chocolate icing, and fudge all contain chocolate—and usually baking chocolate, which is the most dangerous kind. Even some types of yard mulch are composed of cocoa bean husks and are poisonous if your pet eats them.

2. There are other products on the market that pose health risks similar to those of chocolate if they are consumed. The two most common products are coffee beans and sugar-free mints and gums that contain xylitol. Contact your regular veterinarian or the SAEC immediately if your pet eats either of these things.