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Why Chocolate Is Bad for Dogs and Cats

The Dangers of Chocolate to Pets

By Jesse Feldman. September 16, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Why Chocolate Is Bad for Dogs and Cats

There are many foods that pet parents enjoy that dogs and cats should steer clear of, and an important one is chocolate. Learn more here about why this sweet indulgence is so harmful to our furry friends and could even be fatal.

Chocolate can cause very serious health problems for dogs and can be just as toxic for cats. According to the ASPCA, chocolate is the #1 “people food” that pets ingest. This article will explain why chocolate is so dangerous for pets, give the warning signs, and explain what to do if you suspect chocolate poisoning. What makes chocolate so deadly?

Theobromine: A Toxic-to-Pets Ingredient

Theobromine is the main reason chocolate is so harmful to your pet’s system. Theobromine is a toxic alkaloid stimulant akin to caffeine (they are chemically similar) that is found naturally in cocoa beans and thus in chocolate. The concentration of theobromine varies by the amount of cocoa used in the chocolate: dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate contain the most dangerous levels, but even white chocolate can cause problems for your pet.

Theobromine is a toxic compound, and the reason dogs and cats are so sensitive is because their bodies metabolize it more slowly than human bodies do, so a toxic dose can build up faster in their smaller systems. It can take your dog around 17 hours to completely excrete this chemical.

Dogs are more commonly affected by chocolate poisoning because they are more drawn to the sweet taste and thus tend to eat larger quantities than cats. But the compound is dangerous to both dogs and cats.

TIP: Some gourmet dog products use carob as a chocolate “substitute.” In limited doses, carob safely provides the sweetness dogs seek out in chocolate without any of the health concerns. Carob does not contain theobromine or caffeine.

Too Much Fat and Sugar

Although candies like white chocolates and filled chocolates might come with lower risk of a theobromine overdose, the high sugar and fat content can still lead to diarrhea and even to mild or acute pancreatitis. A severely inflamed or swollen pancreas can require medical treatment.

Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning

If you suspect your pet may have ingested chocolate, seek veterinary treatment immediately. Signs of chocolate poisoning include:

More on Dog And Cat Nutrition

Nutrition for Cats and Dogs with Heart Disease
Food to Treat Cat and Dog Urinary Tract Infections
Nutrition for Arthritic Dogs and Cats

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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Why Chocolate Is Bad at a glance

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  • 1Chocolate is very dangerous for your pets.
  • 2It contains a toxic compound called theobromine that pets’ bodies can’t process.
  • 3Signs of overdose include gastrointestinal, cardiac, and neurological symptoms.
  • 4If you suspect chocolate poisoning, see your vet immediately.