February 3, 2019

WHY is Chocolate So Bad for Dogs, Though?

If you know one thing about dogs, it's that chocolate's not good for them.

But why? What is it about Nature's Most Delicious Gift™ (don't steal that, we came up with it) that's so terribly harmful to Man's Best Friend? Let's get out our beakers and talk science.

What's in Chocolate?

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which are seeds of the cacao tree. The pure product includes a number of healthful compounds including riboflavin, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, and vitamin B12. 

Unfortunately, chocolate also contains some not-so-great compounds including oxalate (which might possibly lead to kidney stones), caffeine, and even heavy metals absorbed from the soil the beans were grown in. What's most dangerous about chocolate, though, are the theobromines.

So, About Those Theobromines...

Theobromine is an analkaloid. It's composed of seven carbon atoms, eight of hydrogen, four of nitrogen, and two of oxygen. Sounds pretty boring, right? Well, guess what other analkaloids are out there...

Blood Pressure Medication

Yeah. It's a very potent medicine in small doses...a lethal one in large doses. Therein lies the rub.

You see, humans and canines can both process theobromine, but dogs do so much, much more slowly. That means that just one piece of chocolate eaten by a dog can result in a toxic build up of theobromines. In this case, "toxic" means that the heart rate increases. Blood vessels dilate, crashing blood pressure. Diuretic properties occur, and the central nervous system is directly impacted.

Theobromine means business. It's so bad for dogs, in fact, it's being tested as a chemical means for controlling the coyote population in urban areas

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs: Bad to Worse

It's important to note that not all chocolate contains the same level of theobromines, and not all amounts of theobromines affect dogs the same way. Here are a couple of things to remember.

The smaller the dog, the less theobromine required for a toxic build-up.

The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromines.

No two dogs react the same way to ingesting chocolate just like no two people react exactly the same way to drinking a glass of wine or chugging a Big Gulp full of soda. A Great Dane may be fine after consuming an entire white chocolate bar. A teaspoon of cocoa powder could be lethal to a Yorkshire Terrier.

Also remember that chocolate itself isn't the only cause for concern. Most chocolate isn't just, well, chocolate. It's got sugar, milk, and other additives blended in; those can also be harmful to dogs. And what about the wrapping? Did the dog eat that too? That's a choking risk, not to mention a GI problem waiting to happen.

When to Call the Vet

If your dog eats chocolate - any chocolate! - call your vet. If nothing seems amiss your veterinarian will tell you which symptoms to keep an eye out for.

If your dog is already suffering the effects you'll decide together whether it's best to bring them in to an emergency clinic immediately for observation and treatment.

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