Beware of Chocolate Poisoning During the Holidays


A recent study published in the British journal Vet Record found that in the U.K., dogs were more than four times as likely to have chocolate poisoning during the Christmas holidays than any other time of the year. The exposure was most often from eating chocolate bars or gift boxes, but also cake, liqueurs, Santa figures, and tree decorations. In the U.S., peaks in chocolate poisoning in dogs are also seen around Valentine’s Day and Halloween.

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So, why is this article about dogs in Health News You Can Use? Because our dogs are the four legged members of our families, they are our fur babies and we care as much about their health as we do our own.

The problem with chocolate is that it contains theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine. Our bodies break this down relatively quickly, but  dogs don’t which is what causes the problem. Symptoms usually starts within 6-12 hours after the dog has ingested chocolate and include the following:

  • increased thirst
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal bloating
  • restlessness

If not treated early, more serious symptoms involving the nervous system occur such as difficulty walking, tremors, and seizures. The cardiovascular system is also affected with changes in blood pressure – it either goes very high or drops low, changes in heart rate – it either gets very fast or very slow, and the rhythm becomes irregular. Difficulty breathing and fever can also occur.

The higher the percent of chocolate (milk chocolate, sweetened chocolate, semi-sweet, baker’s chocolate) the greater the amount of theobromine. Unsweetened baker’s cocoa powder is the most toxic with many times the amount of theobromine than milk chocolate. While it may take 8-9 ounces of milk chocolate to make a 50 pound dog sick, it only takes one ounce of baker’s chocolate.

There are a few ways to treat chocolate poisoning, depending on how soon after the dog ate it he/she is seen by the vet. With the aim of getting any chocolate remaining in the stomach out before it can be absorbed into the blood, medications are used to induce vomiting or the stomach is pumped. (Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual, 2016). Activated charcoal is also used to help prevent absorption of any chocolate in the stomach and/or intestines.

If your dog does eat chocolate, don’t panic, but do act quickly by taking the following steps:

1. Call your vet

2. If the dog doesn’t start vomiting on his own, your vet will probably instruct you to give him hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting – check with your vet about how much as it’s based on your dog’s weight.

3. If your vet is not available, call Pet Poison Control - 855-213-6680 or the nearest 24 hour animal hospital.           

The most important thing we can do to protect our dogs from chocolate poisoning is to prevent it in the first place.

  • Keep all chocolate away from your dog and out of her reach on counters, tables and in purses left open on the floor. This includes chocolate bars, baking cocoa, chocolate milk/hot cocoa mix and cake.
  • Do not use chocolate tree ornaments.
  • Avoid putting chocolate in Christmas stockings that are within the dog's reach.
  • Avoid giving small children chocolate when there is a dog around.
  • Teach your dog the “leave it” command in case she goes after chocolate that has fallen on the ground.

Bottom line, the only kind of chocolate your dog should be around is a Chocolate Lab! (Couldn’t resist).

For more information

Chocolate toxicity meter

Merck Manual - Veterinary Manual

American Kennel Club
What to do if your dog eats chocolate?

Interdisciplinary Toxicology
Some foods toxic for pets


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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