Valentine’s Day is all about love, and what better time to celebrate the bond we share with our special pets? The joy and happiness they bring us is unconditional, and we’re so fortunate to have them in our lives.

Because we love them so much, we often want to show them in a special way that we care. Extra treats, walks, and belly rubs are all ways to spread the love at Valentine’s Day and everyday. But around this holiday, there is one particular danger that we want everyone to be aware of, and that’s the issue of chocolate toxicity.

Chocolate Toxicity

A box of chocolate hearts is common on Valentine’s Day, and there’s no shortage of other chocolatey treats around, all of which can be tempting to dogs (and cats!). Although rarely fatal, chocolate can cause serious illness.

Chocolate is toxic because it contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine. Dogs and cats don’t metabolize these chemicals as well as humans do, and therefore are more sensitive to its effects.

How Much Chocolate is Toxic?

At Dickinson Animal Hospital & Pet Wellness Center, we often gets calls that dogs or cats have gotten into chocolate, and pet parents are worried about how much chocolate poses a toxic dose. The amount of theobromine varies with the type of chocolate. Baking and dark chocolate have more, and white chocolate has almost none (but can still make your pet sick with all the fat and sugar it contains).

Symptoms have been noted with doses as low as 20 mg/kg. With baking and dark chocolate containing 130 mg/oz., a 50 pound dog would only need to ingest 1 oz. of baking chocolate to show clinical signs of chocolate toxicity.

The toxic dose for cats is even lower, but cats are less prone to eating chocolate than dogs, since they cannot taste sweetness. This is one instance in which the finicky eater is safer! Still, you need to keep chocolate away from cats just to be safe.

Signs of Chocolate Toxicity

The clinical signs vary depending on the type of chocolate and the amount ingested. For many dogs, the first signs are vomiting and diarrhea. Other signs to watch for include:

  • Drooling
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased thirst
  • Panting and restlessness
  • Racing heart rate
  • Excessive urination

In extreme cases, neurological signs can be seen, such as muscle tremors, twitching, and even seizures. Needless to say, if you see any of the above signs, you should bring your pet in right away. The sooner we can diagnose chocolate toxicity and start treatment, the better the outcome for your pet.

Treatment of Chocolate Toxicity

The treatment your veterinarian recommends will also depend on the type of chocolate and the amount eaten, as well as your dog’s general health. If treated early, administering medication to induce vomiting and giving activated charcoal to block absorption of theobromine into the body systems may be all that is necessary.

Even if the treatment is simple, it’s imperative that pets who have ingested chocolate be monitored closely in the hospital for agitation, increased heart rate, vomiting, and diarrhea. IV fluids are an important way to stabilize your pet and promote theobromine excretion. Sometimes heart medications are also administered to slow or regulate the heart rhythm.

If you’re worried that your pet has eaten chocolate, please call us or have your pet seen immediately. You can also call the Animal Poison Control Center if needed, 24/7. Better yet, store the chocolate well out of reach, and make sure everyone in your home knows the dangers it poses to your pets. Together we can give our pets lots of Valentine’s Day love, while keeping them safe at the same time!