- Toxicosis is disease due to poisoning.
- Chocolate toxicosis is a common problem in dogs, but less common in cats.
- Depending on how much chocolate is ingested, the signs can range from a simple stomach upset to life-threatening problems.
- The toxic ingredients in chocolate include caffeine and a chemical called theobromine.
- Dark chocolate and baking chocolate are more toxic than white chocolate, but all of these should be withheld from pets.
- Cacao bean mulch used in gardens can cause chocolate toxicosis if a large enough amount is eaten.
What Is Chocolate Toxicosis?
Toxicosis is disease due to poisoning. Chocolate contains two ingredients that can be toxic to pets—caffeine, and a chemical called theobromine. While dogs and cats are both very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and theobromine, cats are usually not attracted to chocolate, so chocolate toxicosis tends to be less common in cats.
The amount of caffeine and theobromine in chocolate varies with the type of chocolate. The general rule is the more bitter the chocolate, the more caffeine and theobromine it is likely to contain. For example, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine than does milk chocolate. White chocolate is also potentially toxic but contains less caffeine and theobromine than milk chocolate does.
Cacao bean mulch contains enough theobromine to be toxic if a dog or cat eats large enough amounts of it. Other products that contain caffeine include coffee, tea, and cola soft drinks. These should be withheld from pets as well.
Signs of Chocolate Toxicosis
Clinical signs of chocolate toxicosis can begin to occur within an hour of ingestion. Caffeine and theobromine are both stimulants of the brain and heart, so the clinical signs can include hyperactivity, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, and potentially death. Other clinical signs include the following:
- Chocolate smell on breath
- Lethargy (weakness/tiredness)
- Anxiousness, restlessness, and pacing
Complications associated with chocolate toxicosis can lead to death within 24 hours of ingestion.