The holidays are almost here! The streets are glowing with Christmas lights, the bells are ringing, the people are smiling ... gingerbread houses and candy canes are everywhere, but of course the king of all holiday treats is chocolate. You settle down to enjoy a piece of rich, moist chocolate cake, and a second later your dog is there, using his best puppy eyes to get himself a little treat. Should you fall for it, and give him a piece? Not if you love your dog!
Chocolate is made from cacao beans that contain a chemical called theobromine. While it's mostly harmless to people, theobromine can be very damaging to a dog, as the dogs can't break it down fast enough and can't handle it very well.
Did You Know?
the scientific name of the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao. Theobroma means "drink of the gods" in Greek ("theos" = gods, "broma" = beverage).
The process through which theobromine is broken down is called demethylation, and it's pretty slow in dogs: it will take a dog 17.5 hours (almost a whole day!) to break down half the chemical in its body.
And while it's hanging out in your dog's body, theobromine can interfere with many functions and processes. It's a diuretic, which means that it will make your dog pee more than he should, eventually making him dehydrated. It can over-stimulate muscles, both in the body and in the heart, making the dog's heart rate too fast and causing his paws to twitch. And, finally, it can affect the nervous system because of which the dog might have convulsions and even end up in a coma.
Did You Know?
chocolate is as bad for cats as it is for dogs. And since cats are often smaller, even small amounts of chocolate can make your cat sick.
The best way to help a dog who did manage to get his paws on some chocolate is to make him throw it up as soon as possible. Activated charcoal can provoke vomiting and also prevent some of the theobromine from getting into your dog's system, but only vets should use it.
So if you ever suspect that your dog's sweet tooth got the better of him, take him to the vet ASAP! You might be surprised to find out that your best friend is not the only one there with a chocolate overdose — chocolate poisoning is one of the most common causes of dog poisoning. And it probably becomes the most common during holidays when chocolate is so abundant!
So are all chocolates created equal? Not as far as dogs are concerned. Some types of chocolate contain more theobromine, while others have hardly any at all. It all depends on how many cacao beans were used to make the chocolate.
White chocolate, for example, is not actually made from cacao beans, and so has hardly any theobromine in it. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is made up of way more cacao beans, with a much higher concentration of theobromine as a result. The rule of thumb is that the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains (and the more poisonous it would be to a dog).
Did You Know?
theobromine tastes bitter, as does pure unsweetened chocolate.
In closing, enjoy the holiday spirit and all the yummy treats that go with it, but don't give in to those puppy eyes and keep all the chocolate to yourself!
How much chocolate is deadly to a dog?
History of chocolate
Chemistry of theobromine
This answer was researched and written by Inna Sekirov, an MD/PhD student at the University of British Columbia and a big chocolate enthusiast.