Why Is Chocolate Harmful to Dogs?​ ​

Why Is Chocolate Harmful to Dogs?

Chocolate is an absolute must for many of us, it is a food we can rely on, in difficult days. You’ve probably heard the ads that say the happiest mornings start with chocolate.

However, it is quite dangerous for our closest friends: our dogs. So why is chocolate bad for dogs? Or is it really as harmful as it sounds?

All the Crime Is In This Chemical: Theobromine

We now know that every food we take into our bodies is actually made up of chemicals. So, directly saying “chemicals are harmful!” is never true. Everything is made up of chemicals. However, some of them can be really dangerous. Here, of course, the dose of the chemical taken is also very important. What makes chocolate harmful to dogs is that it contains a chemical called theobromine. Interestingly, although the chemical has “bromine” in its name, it does not contain the element bromine. Let’s examine the reason for this in the next section.

Food of the Gods: Cocoa

As we all know, chocolate contains cocoa. The chocolate industry has become such a large industry that cocoa production has a cultivation area of ​​over 70,000 square meters worldwide. 40% of this production is carried out in Ivory Coast and 30% in Ghana and Indonesia. The Latin name of the cocoa plant is called “Theobroma cacao. Here is the chemical that takes the first place in the list of things dogs shouldn’t eat, Theobromine, comes from the Latin name of cocoa.

Food of the Gods: Cocoa

This Latin name means theo in Greek, meaning God, and “broma” meaning food. Food of the Gods. The “-ine suffix in theobromine indicates that it is a nitrogen-containing compound. Just like caffeine. Or, wait a minute…

What’s With the Caffeine?

The chemical appearances of caffeine and theobromine are quite similar. The only difference is that caffeine has one extra methyl (-CH3) group attached to the nitrogen. Not only their appearance but also the reactions they create in our bodies are more or less the same. When either is taken into the body, it shows many symptoms such as accelerating the heartbeat, showing a stimulating effect, and causing an increase in urine. However, between them, the effect of caffeine is stronger.

Caffeine and theobromine
Caffeine and theobromine
Image Source: ResearchGate

And even our liver, our body’s secret chemist, converts 12% of caffeine to theobromine. It tries to eliminate its harmful effect by turning the rest into similar chemicals called theophylline and paraxanthine.

If you want to learn more about caffeine and caffeine poisoning, we recommend you to read our article titled “How Coffee Relieves Fatigue and What Happens If We Consume Too Much?”.

However, the recovery time for dogs from the harmful effects of theobromine is much longer than ours. In other words, their metabolism is slower. This is exactly where it results in dogs being poisoned by it.

Symptoms of Theobromine Poisoning

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning usually appear between 6 and 12 hours. These symptoms may persist for up to 72 hours. Suppose your dog ate chocolate or you suspect that he has overdosed on chocolate. How can you be sure about this? What are the symptoms of theobromine poisoning?

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Rapid or abnormal breathing
  • Restlessness and hyperactivity
  • Tremors and dissonance
  • Fast or abnormal heartbeat
  • İncrease in urination
  • Seizure

If your dog has one or more of these symptoms, it is very important to take it to the vet as soon as possible!

The More the Chocolate, The More the Danger!

A famous saying goes as follows, to emphasize the importance of dose: “It is the dose that separates the medicine from the poison.“ The same is true for chocolate, as it is for almost any substance. For dogs, more than 60 mg/kg of theobromine is considered dangerous and it is recommended to take it to the vet. 300 mg/kg is the lethal dose and requires immediate veterinary intervention. These dangerous dose rates vary from dog to dog, with larger dogs having more endurance.

Risk Levels

You may ask “Fine… But how do I know how much mg of theobromine is in the chocolate that my dog ​​eats?”

The basic logic is as follows: a lot of chocolate = a lot of cocoa = a lot of theobromine. In other words, dark chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. In fact, to give an approximate amount, dark chocolate contains up to 10 times more theobromine than milk chocolate and is poisonous. You can calculate the dangerous dose of chocolate for your dog by going to the Vets-Now website.

What About Cats?

Chocolate can be toxic not just to dogs but to many animals. In 2014, four American black bears died from theobromine poisoning. As a result of the autopsy performed by the University of Hampshire, it was understood that these bears lost their lives because they ate approximately 41 kg of chocolate and donuts. These foods are mostly put in certain areas as bait.

Chocolate is as dangerous for cats as it is for dogs. In fact, cats have a lower theobromine threshold than dogs. So even if they eat less chocolate, it can have alarming consequences.

But the good news is that the vast majority of cats do not have taste sensors to detect sugary taste, so their cravings for chocolate are not very strong. Still, it’s good to be cautious when you leave your cat alone with chocolate.

References and Further Reading

Exploring cocoa properties: Is Theobromine a cognitive … (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2021, from

My dog ate chocolate and he was fine, so what’s the big deal? Office for Science and Society. (2019, August 26). Retrieved October 4, 2021, from

Staff, A. K. C. (2019, November 22). What to do if your dog eats chocolate. American Kennel Club. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from

Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, April 24). Cocoa . Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from

Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, August 12). Theobromine . Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from

Images not cited are used through Canva Pro with a royalty payment.

The proofreading has been done by Doğa Ünelli and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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