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Chocolate may be America’s favorite flavor. We like chocolate candy, ice cream, chocolate drinks, chocolate cakes, just about anything with chocolate. Our eager pets would love to share our favorite treats with us, but even if you know the dangers of chocolate and don’t give in, some pets can get creative about snatching chocolate from countertops, coffee tables and pantry shelves.

Different Types of Chocolate

Everyone who has ever eaten candy knows there are many types of chocolate. Let’s go back to how chocolate is made. Cacao trees are farmed in tropical regions. The fruit of the cacao tree, called a cacao pod, is sweet and attracts monkeys or other wildlife who eat the fruit but not the bitter seeds. The seeds are discarded by the animal in the rain forest, allowing new trees to grow. The seeds cannot be released from the fruit unless some type of animal breaks the fruit open. Ironically, it is the bitter seeds, packed with theobromine and caffeine, which are used to make chocolate.

On a cacao farm, the pods are harvested by hand, split open, and the seeds are scooped out and left to ferment under banana leaves for several days. This turns the cacao seeds a rich brown and creates the chocolate flavor we crave. The seeds are then dried and shipped to chocolate manufacturers. The seeds must be roasted, hulled, and ground into a paste. The paste is melted into a liquid called chocolate liquor.

  • Cocoa butter is the fat that is extracted from the chocolate liquor, leaving behind low fat cocoa powder.
  • If not separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder, the chocolate liquor can be cooled and formed into blocks of unsweetened baking chocolate.
  • Semisweet chocolate is chocolate that is 35% liquor with sugar, vanilla, or lecithin added.
  • Milk chocolate is at least 10% liquor, the rest being milk solids, sugar, vanilla or lecithin.

The effects of chocolate ingestion in your pet depends on the type and amount of chocolate ingested, in relation to the pet’s body weight. The sugar and fat in the chocolate can create an unpleasant but temporary upset stomach, a gastroenteritis. This is what happens in most chocolate ingestion cases.

In the case of pancreatitis, it is the fat that causes the problem more than the chocolate itself. The pet may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Chocolate is, however, directly toxic because of the theobromine, which is related to caffeine. The more chocolate liquor there is in a product, the more theobromine there is. This makes baking chocolate the worst for pets, followed by dark and semisweet chocolate, followed by milk chocolate, followed by chocolate flavored cakes or cookies. Toxicity from theobromine causes:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Tremors 
  • Seizures 
  • Racing heart rhythm progressing to abnormal rhythms 
  • Death in severe cases

In one ounce of milk chocolate, there is about 60 mg of theobromine while semisweet chocolate contains 150 mg per ounce, and baking chocolate contains 450 mg per ounce.

Toxic doses of theobromine are 9 mg per pound of dog for mild signs, up to 18 mg per pound of dog for severe signs. In other words, if your 15 lb Jack Russell Terrier gobbled up half of a 12 oz bag of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate kisses, that’s over 360mg of theobromine ingested, and he would probably show severe signs if not treated. Eating the entire bag could be fatal. However if your 65 Labrador Retriever ate the same amount, you may only see stomach upset and diarrhea just from eating all the foil. Keep in mind dark and baking chocolate could be 6 to 8 times as toxic.

It takes nearly four days for the effects of chocolate to work its way out of a dog’s system. If the chocolate was only just eaten, it is possible to induce vomiting; otherwise, hospitalization and support are needed until the chocolate has worked its way out of the system.

Cats, though less likely to ingest chocolate, can suffer similar effects if they do decide it’s worth a taste.

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Thank you Dr. Newcomb for all the love and compassion you and your staff shower on me and my dogs and cats whenever I come in or call. Thank you for being there when I need you the most.

Valley Center, CA

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