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Why I Think Dog Owners Should Take a Chocolate Chill Pill

No, I am NOT recommending you feed your dog chocolate. But I think it's important to note that certain types and amounts of chocolate are much more dangerous than others.

 |  Oct 28th 2013  |   22 Contributions


Editor's Note: Also see the piece Dogster's Dr. Barchas wrote on why chocolate is toxic to dogs.

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I consider myself a responsible dog lover/owner. Right -- how many people say that right before they get to the “but?” BUT I do not subscribe to the theory that one drop of chocolate is going to be immediately fatal to my dogs, Daisy and Bud. I’ve been around so-called “chocolate Nazis” who freak out if their fur kids get within three feet of an Oreo. And with the choc-stravaganza that Halloween and the holidays bring, I thought it might be a good time to share some common-sense guidelines so you can relax and remove your finger from the emergency-vet speed dial.

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"No chocolate? You mean I got dressed up for nothing?" English Bulldog ready for Halloween by Shutterstock

Of course, being the aforementioned responsible dog owner, I’d heard and seen many a web and TV news story about how dangerous chocolate can be to canines, and I’d taken heed. I remember when the reports first starting coming out, my social-media network was abuzz with dire warnings not to let so much as a hint of the evil stuff near your beloved pets.

Then I came home from work one night to find this…

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Bud with his head stuck in a box. And yes, after I realized he wasn’t in any pain, I stopped laughing long enough to grab my camera and snap a few pictures.

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Then I noticed this wasn’t just any box -- this was a box that contained milk chocolate-covered matzah for Passover. I’d left it out on a high counter, and still have no idea how those two managed to get it down. But having heard the warnings, I was worried and searched for any signs of distress.

Once I got the box off his head, though, Bud’s doleful look disappeared and he was back to his happy-go-lucky self. His stomach was soft and he didn’t seem in the least bit bothered. I walked him, and saw no signs of any digestive issues either.

I continued to watch him closely and his sister too, in case she’d managed to scarf down any of the ill-gotten booty. Nothing happened. They were both completely fine, thank goodness. How do you like that? So then I started searching the net, and discovered that certain types and amounts of chocolate are much more dangerous than others.

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Dark chocolate=bad. Chocolate by Shutterstock

Unsweetened baking chocolate and dark chocolate top the list. They contain caffeine and a substance called theobromine, both of which can be deadly to dogs. In fact, the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it becomes. With regular old milk chocolate, like the kind Bud consumed, often the wrapper is more dangerous to ingest than the small amount of candy itself. Of course, we had the issue of the box on the head to deal with…

Still, “toxicity is all relative to the size of your pet,” says Dr. Brittney Barton, the founder of HEAL Veterinary Hospital, a state-of-the-art facility in Dallas, Texas. She’s dealt successfully with several cases of chocolate OD, including a Labrador who managed to eat an entire tray of dark-chocolate brownies right from the oven.

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Dr. Brittney Barton has treated plenty of cases of chocolate OD. (Photo courtesy Brittney Barton)

She and other vets use a formula based on weight to judge the danger. Basically, your dogs should be none the worse for wear if they consume less than “one ounce of milk chocolate for a 10-pound dog, two ounces for a 20-pound dog, three ounces for a 30-pound dog, etc.” But anything over that, or that same amount of semi-sweet, dark or baking chocolate, could be dangerous. You can also bookmark the link for petMD’s handy-dandy chocolate toxicity meter, which makes it easy to enter your pet’s weight and the amount consumed to tell if there’s a cause for concern.

Dr. Jeff Werber of the Los Angeles-based Century Veterinary Group, adds: “Depending on when the incident took place, how much ingested, weight of dog, and whether it appeared to be in distress … I’d advise you to just keep an eye on the dog and be aware of symptoms.”

The effects of theobromine poisoning generally show up within four to twenty-four hours after the chocolate is consumed. Dr. Barton says to watch out for vomiting and diarrhea, which actually might be enough to rid their system of the toxins. But if the dog starts panting, or seems jittery and hyper, it’s time to get help. The good news is that this type of poisoning is “extremely treatable if you’re on top of it.” The protocol includes inducing the pet to vomit, then giving IV fluids and activated charcoal to soak up what’s left in the stomach.

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Even if your dog begs, you probably shouldn't give her treats. Dog expecting treat by Shutterstock.

Meanwhile, it might also be a good idea to cut back on the carob or chocolate-flavored dog treats offered at some pet stores and specialty bakeries. You don’t want to be giving your pooch a flavor for the good stuff.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to panic just because you dog happened to snarf down that chocolate-chip cookie you dropped. On the other hand, if there’s an entire box of Godiva missing, you should definitely seek veterinary attention. Better safe than sorry.

“If you have a large dog that has eaten a small amount of chocolate, it really should be okay,” says Dr. Werber. “As I tell my patients, ‘Next time, save some for me!’”

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Has your dog ever eaten chocolate? What did you do? 

About the author: Atlanta's own Toni Perling writes mostly about dogs -- hence her blogger name, Doggienista, and her two beautiful rescues, Daisy Jo and Bud Earl. She tweets for them at DaisyJoBudEarl and covers all the latest Hollywood dog scoop at her Celebrity Dog Blog. She's also a longtime supporter of spay/neuter/rescue, and adopted her first dog, a sweet lovable mutt named Sophie, from an L.A. County shelter. Toni started out in Hollywood as a TV writer, with credits ranging from network drama to informational, including a boatload of episodes of a little Discovery Networks show named I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, before transitioning to the web. 

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