What happens when a dog eats chocolate?
Around the holidays it’s not uncommon for veterinarians to receive phone calls from anxious clients whose pets inadvertently got into some chocolate. While many pets seem absolutely fine after ingesting chocolate, many canine guardians want to know how much chocolate is too much. The answer to that question varies, depending upon the individual sensitivity of a particular dog.
To varying degrees, all dogs do not metabolize a main component in chocolate, leading to buildup of toxic levels of a substance known as theobromine in chocolate, which can build up and lead to both digestive and neurological side effects in sensitive pets. I have seen some dogs ingest a pound of chocolate and not be bothered, while others have just a few pieces and get very sick.
Symptoms to look for include digestive upset such as vomiting and/or diarrhea, as well as neurological reactions ranging from hyperactivity to even seizures in severe cases. If a pet has recently been seen ingesting chocolate within a few hours, then inducing vomiting is often the best solution, either with hydrogen peroxide at home (under the direction of your local veterinarian) or using Ipecac, often available at most veterinary clinics. Depending upon the amount ingested and clinical signs, some veterinarians will administer activated charcoal to help bind up the chocolate in the digestive tract, thus preventing its absorption. Other veterinarians will also keep these pets on close watch for several hours, while hospitalizing dogs and treating them supportively with IV fluid therapy.
Obviously how aggressive the treatment is would depend upon how much chocolate was ingested, as well as most importantly the presence of any clinical signs mentioned here. However, if you are in doubt, a veterinary exam and evaluation would always be recommended.