The Sweet Truth about Dogs and Chocolate

Chocolate ain't all that bad for dogs - depending on the type of chocolate, that is.

April 8, 2019 (published)
Photo by VIN staff. Chocolate eaten by VIN staff.

The shrill ringing of the veterinary ER phone breaks the 3 a.m. stillness. What will be on the other end of the line?

A Labrador in labor?

A pugilistic pug who punched a puma?

A Chihuahua who choked on a cherry?

No, silly. Dogs can’t dial phones.

It’s (drumroll, please): Chocolate!

The veterinary staff breathe a collective sigh of relief.

We thought it might be useful to revisit chocolate, a topic we’ve covered before

For those who just don’t want to read all the way to the shattering conclusion of this piece, here’s the TL:DR version: Chocolate ain’t all that bad for dogs - depending on the type of chocolate, that is.

Now, before you go throwing handfuls of M&M’s at my house (please), hear me out. (See, this is why Cliff’s notes are so dangerous: frightfully lacking in nuance.)

I am not (NOT) saying you can feed chocolate to your dog.

Let me restate that: Do Not Feed Chocolate to your Dog.

Save it for yourself and my house. Chocolate can be bad for dogs. Cats are usually far, far too smart to eat anything like chocolate and don’t really have the time for it, what with their collective plot to enslave humanity taking up the lion’s share of their free time.

But the gap between how bad chocolate actually is for dogs and the public’s perception of that harm is quite wide, and I’d like to ease some of that panic. Really, the one form of chocolate that should get you up out of the La-Z-Boy and on your merry way to the veterinary ER is baking chocolate, and I think there’s only one person left in all of North America who has any of that in their house. (Nancy in Muscatatuck – I’m talking to you.)

As a general rule, it takes about a pound of milk chocolate per 20 pounds of dog body weight to rise to the level of medical threat. There are many dark chocolate bars out there, and those are more potent in terms of the active ingredient that causes all the mayhem. Tiny chocolate toxicology review: The stuff in chocolate that’s ungood for dogs is called theobromine and it’s sort of like super caffeine. Dogs can develop heart rhythm issues, seizures and really high blood pressure if they get into too much of it. And that’s bad.

So, there are times when you will need some medical attention if your dog eats lots of milk chocolate, not-quite-lots of dark chocolate, or stops by Nancy’s house in Muscatatuck and rifles through her pantry.

What do you do in those times? That’s what we’re here to help with.

Let’s say that puma-punching pug from the intro survives the big cat encounter and then celebrates by eating a whole pound of milk chocolate. Let’s also say that he weighs about 20 pounds. We are now firmly in the territory in which chocolate toxicity could occur. A pound of chocolate is one whole heckuva lot of chocolate, but it can be done. Your average chocolate bar is about 1/10th of a pound.

Your first step would be to call your vet. They have the knowledge and skills to get you out of this sweet, sweet mess and can probably calculate how close to a toxic dose your dog got into. They will also have the ability to make your dog vomit up most of the chocolate, and will probably ask you to come in to the hospital.

Having been involved in hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs merrily puking up gallons of half-digested chocolate over the years, this request is not made lightly, so you should listen to them.

If that same pug eats a cookie with 10 M&Ms in it, they will probably tell you to stay home and finish watching Law and Order reruns. No pug ever died from 10 M&Ms.

In either case, if it’s the medically somewhat dangerous one pound of milk chocolate or the safety dance version of 10 M&Ms, you can expect some diarrhea. Dog’s GI tracts are creatures of habit, so give it anything out of the ordinary and it shows its displeasure by magically turning poo into liquid and spraying the premises with it. Your carpets have been warned.

People who have owned dogs for years and years will remember the outdated suggestion of using hydrogen peroxide to make the dog vomit. It causes horrible inflammation in the esophagus — enough to cause painful, difficult swallowing — and could cause aspiration, but mostly, owners are wasting time when the dog should be getting to the ER. Bringing the dog to be monitored in a hospital setting and treated if necessary has the added bonus of letting the ER staff clean the vomit off their linoleum floors rather than you cleaning your carpeting or furniture of mixture of chocolate and bubby hydrogen peroxide all by your lonesome.  

So, let’s recap:

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. If your dog eats more than 5 M&Ms, give your vet a call and they’ll help you out.
  3. Feel free to throw chocolate and/or priceless gems at my house if you like.
  4. Vomiting is best done at the vet hospital or vet ER.
  5. You may end up with funny brown stains on your carpet either way.

And If Nancy in Muscatatuck invites you over, maybe take a pass, or at least leave your dog at home.

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