Decoding Dog Diet: Chocolate, Myths, and Safe Human Foods

As new pet parents, it's crucial to navigate the do's and don'ts of sharing snacks with your furry friend. To better explain, we’re sharing a comprehensive Q&A guide where we unravel the often-misunderstood relationship between dogs, chocolate, and other human foods. We delve into the nuances of different types of chocolate, their effects on dogs, and explore safe human food alternatives for your pet. You'll gain insights into managing accidental ingestions and making informed decisions about your pet's diet, backed by expert advice and medical research. Let's ensure your journey into pet parenthood is both informed and safe, especially when it comes to their treats and nutrition!


Q: Can Dogs Eat White Chocolate?

A: White chocolate is less toxic than milk or dark chocolate because it contains much lower levels of theobromine and caffeine, the substances that are toxic to dogs. To put it in context, white chocolate has 0.2% the theobromine of dark chocolate. An animal (dog or cat) would need to eat 28 x their body weight to reach the LD50 or lethal dose of theobromine (LD50 is the dose at which 50% of animals will die as a result of ingestion – a crude but common benchmark). That said, white chocolate is still not recommended for dogs given its high sugar and fat contents.


Ingestion of White Chocolate

While the risk of theobromine and caffeine-related poisoning is next to zero if a dog ingests white chocolate, it can still cause stomach upset or pancreatitis due to its high fat and sugar content. Stomach upset may result in significant diarrhea and accidents on carpets and furniture, while pancreatitis could require a hospital stay and, in some cases, be life-threatening. 


NOTE: While consuming traditional white chocolate products poses minimal risk of poisoning, there is always the potential for non-traditional white chocolates to have higher than normal toxicants in them. If white chocolate is ingested, it’s important to check the ingredients to determine the appropriate treatment and next steps. 


Q: Why are Dark and Milk Chocolate Toxic?

A: Theobromine and caffeine, found in higher amounts in dark and milk chocolates, are the main reasons these types of chocolates are toxic to dogs. Theobromine and Caffeine affect the GI tract (vomiting and diarrhea), the heart (through adrenaline release), cause urinary incontinence, central nervous system abnormalities (seizures, wobbliness hyperexcitability) and respiratory and circulatory collapse (with death following) at high doses. 


Severity of Toxicity 

Severity of toxicity is related to the adulteration of the primary ingredient, the cacao bean, which gets more processed as you go from cooking, to dark to milk chocolate. Cacao beans have 3x the concentration of Theobromine and Caffeine compared to unsweetened cooking chocolate, which has 3 x the amount of dark chocolate which has 3 x the amount of milk chocolate (roughly). So the difference between milk chocolate and the cacao bean is 27 x the Theobromine and Caffeine, which is why you need to be more careful the darker the chocolate. In short, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is.


Q: What Do I Do if White Chocolate is Ingested?

A: As with any toxicity, determine the max amount of toxin your pet ate and note the exact type of chocolate (white, dark or other). This information will be crucial in determining how worried one should be and next steps. 


Know Your Animal

If you have an animal that has a history of pancreatitis or a history of an easily upset stomach, you may want to be more proactive with intervention and administer a non-specific gastrointestinal decontaminant or binder like ReadyRESCUE. This product acts as a sponge to soak up most things that are in the GI tract in a high concentration and could help mitigate some of the consequences of them eating the chocolate. 


Monitoring

Watch for signs of stomach upset or distress. You may also want to feed your pet some canned pumpkin or rice to help bulk their stool up in case diarrhea is imminent. 


Veterinary Consultation

While white chocolate is less dangerous, it's still wise to consult a veterinarian, especially if large quantities are consumed or if your pet is showing significant effects (profuse diarrhea or vomiting) to the ingestion.  


Other Safe Human Treat Foods for Dogs:

  • Popcorn: Plain, air-popped popcorn is generally safe for dogs in small amounts. Avoid butter, salt, and other toppings.
  • Nuts: Some nuts are safe, like peanuts (unsalted and not in the shell) and cashews in small amounts. However, nuts like macadamia are toxic to dogs.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Many are safe, like carrots, green beans, and apples (without seeds). Avoid grapes, raisins, and onions, which are toxic.

Best Human Foods to Offer Dogs:

  • Lean Meats: Cooked, unseasoned chicken, turkey, and lean beef are good options.
  • Certain Fruits and Vegetables: Such as blueberries, sliced bananas, cucumbers, and cooked sweet potatoes.
  • Cooked Eggs: These can be a healthy treat in moderation.
  • Rice and Pasta: Plain, cooked rice and pasta can be given occasionally.
  • Many bland human foods given in moderation are safe for pets, as long as the known toxic ingredients are avoided. Foods and ingredients that are toxic to dogs include: 
  • Grapes and Raisins: Can cause kidney failure in dogs.
  • Onions and Garlic: Can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage.
  • Xylitol: A sweetener found in many sugar-free products, including gum and baked goods, which can cause insulin release and hypoglycemia in pets.
  • Avocado: Contains persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.
  • Macadamia Nuts: Can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors, and hyperthermia in dogs.
  • Yeast Dough: Can expand and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and potentially causing the stomach or intestines to rupture.
  • Fatty Foods: Such as butter, bacon, and fried foods, can cause pancreatitis in pets.
  • Salt: Excessive salt intake can lead to sodium ion poisoning in pets, causing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures, and even death.
  • Bones: Cooked bones can splinter and cause obstruction or lacerations of the digestive system.
  • Milk and Dairy: Many pets are lactose intolerant and can develop digestive problems.
  • Raw/Undercooked Meat, Eggs, and Bones: Can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Artificial Sweeteners (other than Xylitol): Some can be toxic or cause digestive upset.
  • Citrus: The stems, leaves, peels, fruit, and seeds of citrus plants contain varying amounts of citric acid, essential oils that can cause irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression if ingested in significant amounts.

It's important to introduce any new food into your dog's diet gradually and in moderation to monitor for any allergic reactions or digestive issues. 

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