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Chocolate & Pets — What do Vets Say?
By: Trupanion Staff | Updated July 18, 2023
Humans love chocolate for all occasions, whether it's birthdays, holidays, or any day in between. Unfortunately, chocolate and pets is a different story — in all forms, chocolate is poisonous to our pets and should be kept away from them entirely. To get the details, we talked with Trupanion's staff veterinarians about the reality of chocolate's effects on dogs and cats.
Chocolate and pets: Who is at risk?
Cats and dogs are both at risk of chocolate poisoning. However, there are more reported cases of dogs being affected since dogs typically eat just about anything. When it comes to chocolate and pets, smaller pets face a much greater risk of chocolate toxicity than large breed dogs because it only takes a small amount of chocolate to negatively affect them. While 3 ounces of milk chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea in a 20-pound dog, it takes about 11 ounces to cause the same effects in an 80-pound dog.
Signs of chocolate toxicity in dogs and cats
Theobromine and caffeine cause an increased heart rate. A pet that consumes toxic amounts of chocolate will experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and restlessness.
Take pets with suspected chocolate poisoning to their veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian may induce vomiting. Active charcoal may be used to prevent absorption into the bloodstream.
What makes chocolate poisonous to pets?
We humans tend to love chocolate, and aside from the normal effects sugary treats can have when consumed in excess, chocolate has no ill effects on the average person. So, why exactly is it poisonous to our furry loved ones?
The answer is in its chemical composition. Chocolate and cocoa contain caffeine and a naturally occurring stimulant called theobromine which are both toxic to dogs and cats. Even types of chocolate with lower levels of these components still contain sugar and milk fat, which also should not be incorporated into dog and cat diets. This means that all forms of chocolate — milk or dark, processed or organic — can be dangerous to your pal.
That said, the interesting thing is that different types of chocolate can contain different levels of theobromine. While you should never give dogs or cats any form of chocolate, certain kinds may be more toxic (and require swifter medical intervention) than others.
Different types of chocolate
In general, chocolate and pets don’t mix. There are some differences between types of chocolate, though, that are helpful to know.
Dark chocolate contains more stimulants than milk chocolate, while unsweetened chocolate and baking chocolate contains even higher amounts. If your pet consumes any of these, don't wait for them to show signs of sickness — seek immediate medical attention. White chocolate contains only trace amounts of caffeine and theobromine, but it can still be harmful to dogs and cats and should be avoided.
Theobromine levels in different types of chocolate
- Dry cocoa powder — 800 mg/oz
- Unsweetened (baker's) chocolate — 450 mg/oz
- Cocoa bean mulch — 255 mg/oz
- Semi-sweet and sweet dark chocolate — 150-160 mg/oz
- milk chocolate — 44-64 mg/oz
- White chocolate — insignificant amount (but can still be dangerous for pets!)
Pet insurance chocolate claims
Having a good pet insurance plan covering your pet can help mitigate the cost of unexpected veterinary expenses, including those for chocolate toxicity. Here are just a few examples of what Trupanion pet insurance has paid out for treatment of chocolate's negative effects on pets:
Mosby, 2-year-old Maltese
Diagnosis: Chocolate ingestion
Trupanion paid: $847.00
Rocky, 3-year-old Havanese
Diagnoses: Chocolate ingestion
Trupanion paid: $911.50
Moo Shu, French Bulldog puppy (under a year old)
Diagnosis: Chocolate toxicity
Trupanion paid: $2,378.00
Prevent accidents with chocolate and pets
Not only can chocolate be found in candy and baked goods, but also in our gardens. Households with pets should avoid gardening with cocoa bean mulch which also contains toxic amounts of theobromine.
We know that accidents can and will happen, whether your cat gets a taste of your holiday chocolate or your dog is digging through your garden and ingests some cocoa mulch. If you haven't protected your pet already in the event of veterinary emergencies, take a few minutes to learn more about your pet insurance coverage options.