Dr. Anthony S. Johnson Uncovers the Truth About Dogs & Chocolate

What Happens When My Dog Eats Chocolate?

Dr. Anthony S. Johnson is a veterinarian and academic hailing from Carmel, Indiana, now living and working in Illinois. His nearly twenty-five years in the industry teaching, publishing, and heading up veterinary emergency departments has taught him quite a lot about dogs, chocolate, and the panic some owners experience when their pup ingests the sweet stuff.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

The truth about chocolate is that it can be toxic, but dogs rarely ingest enough for it to be serious. If you catch your dog eating something it shouldn’t, always take note of what they ate, how much, and when. Then, call your vet before you panic. Chances are they can help you over the phone and ease any concerns you have if the case isn’t serious.

Different types of chocolate come with different severities. “Milk chocolate, like the chocolate most often found in candy bars and treats like M&Ms, is actually the least dangerous to your dog,” says Dr. Johnson. “Semi-sweet and dark chocolate can be more dangerous, with baker’s chocolate being the worst.” That’s because the chemical responsible for the negative reactions in dogs, theobromine, is more highly concentrated in dark chocolates. Theobromine can cause heart arrhythmia (or irregular heartbeat), increased blood pressure, and even seizures.

Know When to Contact Your Vet

What most pet owners don’t know is that it would take quite a lot milk chocolate, about a pound of chocolate per twenty pounds of dog, for toxicity levels to become concerning. So, if your Chihuahua managed to eat ten chocolate bars, it’s probably time to go to the vet’s office or local emergency department. If your Labrador retriever ate seven M&Ms from the bottom of an unattended bowl, chances are it’ll be just fine. “No matter what the case, there’s no harm in giving your vet a call,” says Dr. Johnson. “Speaking from experience, most vets are more than willing to let you know over the phone whether they think your pet needs to come in.”

Whatever you do, Dr. Johnson warns against the old advice of giving your dog hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting when they’ve eaten chocolate or something else on the no-eat list. “Hydrogen peroxide is very harsh and can actually cause severe irritation of the esophagus, making swallowing difficult,” says Dr. Johnson. This can be particularly negative when inducing vomiting because it’s important to keep your pet hydrated. After vomiting, your pet will need to be able to comfortably drink water, which a painful throat might discourage.

Instead, if your pet needs to empty the contents of its stomach, make sure you have it done under veterinary supervision, advises Dr. Johnson. It will be a much better experience for both you and your pet, with the added bonus of not having to clean up the vomit from your home kitchen or living room.

If your vet doesn’t think a visit to the office or hospital is necessary, be aware that your pet may still experience some discomfort, depending on the amount of theobromine in their system. Dogs’ digestive tracts are systems of habit and anything that upsets the norm can wreak havoc. Be prepared for your dog to suddenly need to go outside and for their bowel movements to be a little more liquid than normal, especially if they don’t normally eat a big variety of foods. “Whenever your dog eats something they shouldn’t, be prepared to keep an eye on them,” says Dr. Johnson. “But chances are, if they ate a little bit of chocolate, they will be just fine.”

Medical Director, VIN. Carmel, Indiana.