Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!

Valentines Day is one of those candy holidays, and one of the most chocolate-intensive celebrations. I think most people know by now that chocolate is bad for dogs, but beyond that the details tend to get a little fuzzy. Should I be worried if they lick my face right after I put on chocolate-flavored lip gloss? What if they snag a dropped chocolate chip cookie? Can they have white chocolate?

How Much Chocolate Does It Take to Kill a Dog?
First, it's important to know how much chocolate is in your chocolate. When it comes to chocolate toxicity, quality is everything. The most dangerous substances contain high percentages of actual cocoa. That chocolate-flavored lip gloss? They could eat the whole tube and be fine. Chocolate-flavored breakfast cereal? I'm not worried unless Ru somehow manages to eat an entire box.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, white chocolate is an insignificant source of theobromine, the compound in chocolate that is toxic to dogs but not humans. The lethal dose of theobromine can be as low as 100 mg per kg of dog weight, with mild effects occurring in some dogs with as little as 20 mg/kg. Serious cardiac effects are more likely at 40 mg/kg or more. Dry cocoa powder can contain as much as 800 mg/oz of theobromine. Unsweetened baking chocolate has about 450 mg/oz, while milk chocolate has around 64 mg/oz.

Ru weighs about 3 kg, so an ounce of milk chocolate could be enough to make him sick, and two ounces could make him really sick. A Hershey's Kiss weighs 0.2 ounces, it could take up to five of those to make him queasy, and if he eats less than ten he's unlikely to have serious heart rhythm issues. Since Ru doesn't really like food, I'm not seriously worried about him eating enough milk chocolate to make himself sick.

Of course, different dogs feel the effects of theobromine at different doses. Brisbane has a stomach of steel and would have to eat a whopping 360 mg of it before he got so much as a tummy ache. That's 28 Hershey's Kisses. It would take nearly an ounce of cocoa powder to put him in the cardiac danger zone, and more than an ounce of baking chocolate. I happen to know that Briz tolerates theobromine remarkably well, as he has eaten half a flourless chocolate cake off the counter on two separate occasions with no ill effects. He got a tummy ache once from eating an entire bar of 85% chocolate bar. I feed him the occasional M&M, secure in the knowledge that the theobromine will be out of his system within a day or two.

Chocolate is really nothing to freak out about, though it can hide in unexpected places. Coco mulch is sometimes used in landscaping and also sometimes eaten by undiscriminating dogs with unfortunate results. I think it's wise for dog owners to have a rough idea of how much theobromine is in chocolate, as well as a general estimate of how much it would take to harm their particular dog. That way we can all stop freaking out when a lucky dog snarfs a stray piece of candy off the floor.  PetMD has a really cool chocolate calculator for those who find all that math a bit daunting.

Has your dog had any close encounters with chocolatey goodness?


  1. Interesting! I believe grapes/raisins and onions are the worst culprits. I've heard a raisin can kill a chi.

    1. They can be bad, but not a predictably as chocolate. I don't anyone has figured out why exactly some dogs have issues and others don't. Brisbane has eaten a ton of grapes and raisins and cooked onions with no ill effects. I doubt I could get Ru to eat a raisin willingly.