You've probably heard that chocolate is bad for dogs. Sugar, too. Sometimes you have to wonder if it's just a myth humans came up with so they wouldn't have to share sweets with their four-legged friends. It's time to set the record straight on what chocolate and sugar does to dogs.
Chocolate is made from cacao beans. The manufacturing process differs according to what the end product will be. Cacao beans can be made into cocoa powder, chocolate bars and, interestingly enough, cosmetics and medication. Not all chocolate is lethal to dogs. The general rule is, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to canines. So, baking cocoa, hot chocolate and semi-sweet dark chocolate bars are the most dangerous. White chocolate and milk chocolate are less toxic.
Why Chocolate is Toxic
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Chocolate contains an ingredient called theobromine. It's a stimulant present in the cacao bean that survives the manufacturing process. People can handle large amounts of theobromine because they metabolize it quickly. Canines, however, metabolize it slowly, so the levels of theobromine rise with each bite of chocolate. Large dogs can handle a small piece of dark chocolate, but the same piece of chocolate could send a small dog into cardiac arrhythmia, tremors, coma and death. Common signs of theobromine poisoning include hyperactivity, diarrhea, vomiting, an increase in his need to urinate and heavy panting.
A little sugar is not bad for a dog. Naturally occurring sugar in fruits, yogurt and other treats is necessary for a dog to have energy. A high-quality, brand-name dog food will contain the right balance of carbs, proteins and other nutrients and minerals your dog needs to thrive. If you offer your dog sugary snacks such as candy, cookies or other sweet treats, the added sugar will cause your dog to suffer the same symptoms you do when you overindulge in sweets: dental caries, hyperactivity followed by lethargy, obesity and, if you continue to give you dog sweets, diabetes.
While we are on the subject of sugar, it's important you know that many sugary sweets are made with a sugar substitute called Xylitol. Xylitol is very toxic to dogs and is found in all sorts of breath mints, candies, sugar-free products and gum. According to USA Today, "it has been calculated that as little as a gram of sweetener can kill a 10-pound dog." Xylitol poisoning can cause liver failure and seizures. It's important to understand that this product is more dangerous than chocolate, yet everyone knows about chocolate poisoning, Now you know about Xylitol toxicity as well. Read labels, and keep your dog away from anything containing this sugar substitute.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.