Tender Care Veterinary Center’s Toxicology Series: Chocolate–The Delicious Killer

Milk.  Dark.  White.  It’s delicious.  It’s hard to resist.  It’s chocolate.  It’s one of humanity’s delicacies so how can we blame our furry companions when they get into our favorite chocolatey snack?  Because, while eating too much is bad for our waistlines, if our pets ingest too much, it can be lethal. 

chocolate bar

So what makes chocolate so dangerous?

There are two culprits that cause chocolate toxicity–theobromine and caffeine.  Both are methylated xanthine alkaloids.  Sounds scary, right?  They are.  Without going too deep into the biochemistry of methylxanthines, basically, these toxins affect the central nervous, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems of our pets and can overwhelm these body systems and cause them to shut down–resulting in death.

The VINcyclopedia of Diseases lists no less than 40 side effects that these toxins can cause, but some clinical symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and death. 

Are there any exceptions?

If your pet eats chocolate, you should call your veterinarian to discuss the amount of consumption, even if they appear to be acting normally.  However, we do not see the methylxanthine toxicity risks with white chocolate.  White chocolate is processed from the cocoa bean but is separated to contain only cocoa butter and not cocoa powder which is where theobromine and caffeine are located.  However, depending on what was included in the white chocolate treat, it is still recommended to contact your veterinarian to make sure no other treatment is needed. 

Your pet’s risk will depend on how much chocolate they ingested.  Your veterinarian has resources to help calculate what dosage your pet ingested and what level of symptoms could be expected.  If the dose is low enough, you may not need to bring your pet in for any treatments.  Having the packaging information available to relay how much cocoa content was in the treat and knowing your pets’ current weight will help your veterinarian more quickly determine the intervention that is needed.

So, your pet found your chocolate stash?  What now?

Call your veterinarian.  The sooner we know that your pet ingested chocolate and how much, the sooner we can intervene.  Depending on how much and what kind of chocolate, you will most likely be asked to bring your pet to the hospital immediately to induce vomiting.  Once the veterinarian has assessed your pet’s exposure and any clinical symptoms the pet is exhibiting, a treatment plan will be formulated. 


If possible, please bring the packaging of the chocolate that was eaten so your veterinary team can see how much chocolate was ingested. 

What can you expect next?  

Activated charcoal may be dosed to help prevent any absorption of the caffeine and theobromine in the intestinal tract.  Supportive therapies will also be prescribed based on clinical symptoms.  If your pet is vomiting or having diarrhea, gastrointestinal medications will be prescribed to help your pet feel better.  Or if your pet is having seizures, medications will be prescribed to control those.  

It will most likely be recommended that your pet is hospitalized for monitoring and to provide them support with IV fluids.  

There are many products that contain ingredients that can be harmful or life-threatening to pets.  The ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline is available 24/7 for phone consultations if your pet eats something you are concerned about. 

Pet Poison Hotline:1-855-764-7661