Chocolate Poisoning in Cats and Dogs
A few years ago, our dog, Patch, managed to sneak a large amount of dark chocolate brownies. We had come home late and tired from a Pet Networking Event we had held that night, and didn’t notice that we hadn’t put the left over cakes away securely enough.
By the time we saw the aftermath in the kitchen the next morning (and a very guilty looking Patch…), it was hours after he had actually eaten them. The theobromine in the chocolate had already been absorbed. Making him sick didn’t make much of a difference at this point (we did it anyway, in the hope that it might help just a little), and so we were forced to just ride it out.
It wasn’t pretty!
We had 48 very worried hours.
He was hyperactive and couldn’t settle. He kept wanting to move, but became increasingly more uncoordinated. And drank like a fish.
There’s no antidote for chocolate poisoning, so apart from making him sick, all we could do was to give him activated charcoal (to absorb as much toxin from his intestines as possible), keep him hydrated, and try to keep him calm and to stop him from bumping into things and hurting himself. (This was before I knew more about the power of herbs. If I’d known then what I know now, I could have supported him much better. Thank goodness he was ok anyway!)
We kept monitoring him to see if he needed to be in hospital and on a drip.
Luckily, Patch was young and strong, and he pulled through fine and has been fine ever since.
It could have looked very different. Especially if he had been older, frailer, with preexisting health conditions (especially heart problems), or just a smaller dog. Or a cat.
Nobody should have to go through this with their pet!
Why is chocolate poisonous for pets?
It contains a substance called theobromine, which is similar to caffeine, and dogs and cats can’t break it down in the same way that humans can. So it stays in the system for longer.
It can affect the intestines, the central nervous system, the kidneys and the heart.
What will happen to my pet if they’ve eaten too much chocolate?
Signs of chocolate toxicity will vary from pet to pet. This is what you may see:
-Vomiting and diarrhoea
-Restlessness and panting
Which chocolate is worst?
The darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content, and the more toxic the chocolate is for pets.
Cocoa powder (often used in baking) has the highest theobromine content, followed by dark chocolate, then milk chocolate and lastly white chocolate.
How much chocolate is toxic for your pet then depends on their size and weight, and if they have any health conditions.
Here is a handy chocolate toxicity calculator. https://www.vets-now.com/app/chocolate-calculator/
Simply type in your dog’s weight and the type and amount of chocolate they have eaten – it will tell you how serious or otherwise this is likely to be.
No safe amounts of chocolate have been established for cats. If you think your cat may have eaten any amount of chocolate, it’s advisable to take her to your vet straight away.
What to do if you’re not sure?
Maybe you don’t know if or how much chocolate your dog has eaten, or what type of chocolate it was (what if it was a mix?).
If in doubt, take them to the vets, an emergency vet if needs be.
It helps to take the wrapper, to help the vet to calculate the risk to your pet.
What will happen at the vets?
They will assess the situation, including possible or likely amounts and type of chocolate, your pets’ weight and size, their general health and any presenting signs.
Maybe nothing needs to be done. You get to take your cat or dog home again, and you have peace mind. See below for ways to support them further.
Your vet may decide to make your dog sick. This is done via an injection of a drug called apomorphine. Your dog will be sick several times and empty out any chocolate that’s still in the stomach.
It can’t be given to cats.
They may then be given activated charcoal, to absorb any toxins that are already in the intestines, and stop the body from absorbing them.
It may be necessary for your dog or cat to stay in the clinic, for a drip, blood tests and supportive treatment until they improve.
What can you do at home to support them?
Once you’ve had the all clear from your vet, you’ll want to support your dog or cat’s recovery as best as possible at home.
-Provide plenty of water and encourage them to drink, to support and flush through their kidneys.
-Offer small, light meals, to support their digestive tract. Home cooked is best during recovery. Chicken soup, white fish, quinoa and pumpkin can all be helpful here. Cats probably won’t want the veg, just chicken and fish is fine for them.
Marshmallow herb is soothing for the intestines, and can help to slow down the absorption of any remaining toxins.
-If they’re agitated: provide a calm environment. Play soothing music. Try your best to be calm yourself- dogs mirror us: if you’re worried, they’ll be worried; if you’re calm, they’re much more likely to be calm too! Cats don’t mirror us in the same way as dogs, but they still benefit from your own calm very much.
-Add some Chamomile Tea to their bowl to calm both their nerves, and their bowels. If more support is needed, Valerian herb can be a good option.
–Milkthistle supports both the liver and kidneys.
And definitely put the chocolates well out of your pets’ way!
If they’ve managed to get hold of chocolate once, there’s a good chance, they’ll do it again. Unfortunately, we often see the same dogs over and over again.
Disclaimer: All pets are different and all situations are different. This advice is not intended to replace a veterinary consultation. It’s to be used for general guidance only. If you’re concerned about your pet, always consult your vet.