It’s that time of the year when we tend to forget the diet and enjoy a chocolate Easter egg…or several! It’s also that time of the year when veterinarians see many cases of chocolate poisoning in pets.

Chocolate can kill. Find out why some vegan chocolates can cause chocolate poisoning in pets and more in our Q & A with small animal veterinarian Dr. Anne Fawcett.

Pets4Life: Are you treating many cases of chocolate poisoning in pets? Why is chocolate so bad for animals?

Dr Fawcett: We are seeing a few dogs this week who have ingested large amounts of chocolate.

It’s serious because chocolate contains methyxanthines (eg caffeine, theobromine) which can cause cardiac and central nervous stimulation, as well as have a diuretic effect. It also contains a lot of fat which dogs generally don’t tolerate as well as us.

Pets4Life: Is chocolate poisoning just as bad for cats as it is for dogs?

Dr Fawcett: Cats are susceptible to chocolate toxicity but don’t tend to pig out to the degree that dogs do, so we see very few cases of chocolate ingestion in cats (though they are very adept at eating other things they shouldn’t like string, wool, hair elastics, tinsel etc).

Dogs are the number one victim because they are the least fussy in their eating habits. I can tell you, from inducing vomiting gazillion times, that dogs don’t care if they eat the wrappers.

Pets4Life: What’s the difference in toxicity between milk and dark chocolate if any?

Dr Fawcett: The more cocoa the chocolate contains, the more toxic. So the least toxic is white chocolate, while the most toxic are the increasingly trendy hard-core high percentage of cocoa gourmet chocolate.  I would add that many vegan chocolates are dark and dark chocolate is the worst so it needs to be kept away from pets.

Toxicity will to some extent depend on the size of the dog. 30g of very dark chocolate or cooking chocolate can kill a 5kg dog…but may not harm a big lab. (Mind you, I would also like to add that big labs DO NOT STOP AT ONE PIECE!)

Pets4Life: What should pet parents do if they find their pet has accidentally eaten chocolate?

Dr Fawcett: If you live with a food motivated hound, you might want to keep your chocolate in a safe.  But if you think your dog has found your sweet stash, call your veterinarian. It is worth inducing vomiting early in the piece (ideally within 1-2 hours) because this can minimise absorption and signs of toxicity.

Clinical signs of chocolate toxicity usually refer to excitement, and they include restlessness and hyperactivity, panting, signs of nausea like salivation, vomiting (usually brown coloured and possibly containing colourful wrappers) and chocolately-diarrhoea.
 Check out this free App First Aid for Pets – you can identify what’s toxic to animals and the steps to take if you notice your pet is unwell.

Listen to our podcast interview with Dr Anne Fawcett on chocolate poisoning and other animal emergencies you need to know.