Oh, how we love chocolate! Unfortunately for dogs, chocolate is not the best thing for them, no matter how delicious they think it is. To understand how chocolate is bad for dogs you have to start with the types of chocolate and how they are made.
Harvesting- Ripe cocoa pods are manually taken from the trees so as not to harm the tree itself. The pods are cut open, and the white pulp containing the cocoa beans is scooped out. The beans contain theobromine and caffeine. The pods and pulp are put into wooden containers where it ferments for 5-7 days. They are turned occasionally to help them ferment more evenly. This process turns the cocoa seeds to a rich brown colour. After the fermentation process beans are dried out in a layer under the sun.
The next step is roasting. They are then cracked open, and the shell is removed. What is left is the cocoa nibs. The nibs are ground until they become a paste known as cocoa butter. This unrefined form of chocolate contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter (the natural fat present in the bean). The last step is tempering, and that creates the exact consistency each manufacturer is looking for.
One of the first concerns when it comes to chocolate is Pancreatitis. Pancreatitis happens when your pet eats a sudden high-fat meal (like eating a bag of chocolate bars), and it can have a lethal effect. Vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain is just the start of this uncomfortable situation. With pancreatitis, it is the fact that causes the issue more so than the chocolate itself.
Methylxanthines- in particular, caffeine and theobromine, makes chocolate toxic. The more chocolate liquor there is in a product, the more theobromine there is. That is why baking chocolate is the worst for pets, followed by semi-sweet, then dark chocolate, then milk chocolate, then chocolate flavoured cakes, etc.
Theobromine causes some of the same concerns as pancreatitis, such as vomiting and diarrhea but also causes even more concerns like hyperactivity, tremors and seizures, racing heart rhythm progressing to abnormal rhythms and death in some severe cases.
Baking chocolate contains 390 mg per ounce of theobromine, while white chocolate has no theobromine. The only concern with white chocolate is the high-fat content. Remember, toxic doses of theobromine are 9mg per pound of dog for mild signs and up to 18 mg per pound of dog for severe signs. So your dog doesn’t have to eat much for signs to appear.
If the chocolate was just eaten it is possible to induce vomiting. If it is unknown when it was eaten hospitalization and support are needed. If you have any questions, they always reach out and talk to your veterinarian.
Side notes:- Chocolate liquor is the liquid that comes from grinding the cacao beans.
- Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from the chocolate liquor.
- Cocoa powder is the solid that remains after the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate liquor.
- Unsweetened (baking) chocolate is straight chocolate liquor containing 50-60% cocoa butter
- Dark chocolate (semisweet) is chocolate that is 35% chocolate liquor (the rest being sugar, vanilla, or lecithin)
- Milk chocolate is at least 10% chocolate liquor; the rest is milk solids, vanilla or lecithin
This blog was written by Jill Thiessen, Office Manager