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The 'doggone' truth: the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs

Keep your Halloween chocolate out of paws’ reach. Chocolate, especially the dark and unsweetened kind, is highly toxic to dogs.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It's hard keeping little hands -- and often little paws -- out of the Halloween candy bucket, especially when the sweet aroma of chocolate (Reese's, anyone?) is wafting through the house. 

A local veterinarian is sounding the alarm on chocolate, ahead of an expected increase in veterinary visits post-Halloween.

THE QUESTION

Any pet parent knows chocolate is not a dog's best friend. That's a given. But, is it true the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to our canines?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

It's true. The darker and less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs. Cocoa powder and baker's chocolate are the most toxic, and milk chocolate is the least, but the amount ingested -- plus the dog's weight -- make a difference.

WHAT WE FOUND

Our sources explain chocolate contains theobromine (a compound in the cacao bean) and caffeine, which can speed up the animal's heart rate and stimulate the nervous system. Knowing how much and what kind of chocolate your pup ate are key.

"The important things to remember -- the darker the chocolate, the less your pet needs to ingest to reach that potentially toxic dose," Gebhardt said.

She said baker's chocolate is more toxic than dark chocolate, which is more toxic than milk chocolate.

"For instance, a 50-pound dog would need to eat one ounce of baker's chocolate to reach a potentially-toxic dose but would need to eat eight ounces or half a pound of milk chocolate to reach those same toxic symptoms," Gebhardt explained.

Those symptoms, according to the Pet Poison Helpline, are vomiting, diarrhea, hyperexcitability, elevated heart rate, seizures and increased thirst, among others. 

The American Kennel Club says normally, chocolate poisoning symptoms appear within six to 12 hours, and taking action quickly can save your pet's life.

"Chocolate toxicity is one of the most common problems we see present to the emergency clinic around Halloween and the upcoming holidays. The good news is, it's very treatable toxicity with an excellent prognosis with the appropriate time and supportive care," she said.

So, what about cats? Yes, chocolate is toxic to them, too, but the Pet Poison Helpline says dogs make up 95% of its chocolate-related calls. Cats, the agency notes, usually turn up their noses at the delicacy and won't eat it.

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