Vet Advice: What Should I Do If My Dog Drank Hot Chocolate?

Dogs seem to love the taste of chocolate just as much as we humans do. It’s no wonder we veterinarians are so used to fielding questions about dogs eating all different kinds of chocolate, including hot chocolate beverages. 

Most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic to dogs but they don’t know just how much it takes to make a dog sick. It’s especially confusing if your dog eats or drinks hot chocolate mix because it contains other ingredients besides chocolate.   

Should I Be Concerned That My Dog Drank Hot Chocolate?

Instant hot chocolate mixes do contain chocolate, so you should definitely be concerned if your dog ingests the powder or the prepared beverage. Like all other chocolate, the dose makes the poison. 

The problem is figuring out how much chocolate a dog ingested when the food contains other ingredients. Let’s look at hot chocolate beverages and I’ll give you an educated guess on how much chocolate they contain. 

You should always err on the side of caution and take your dog to a vet right away. Quick action can save a dog’s life.

If you want some personal advice on whether your dog needs to go see the vet on an emergency basis, I recommend you call the professionals at Pet Poison Helpline. They charge a fee of $75 at the time of publication, but the advice they give is priceless!

Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661

Toxic Components in Hot Chocolate Beverages

The toxic components of chocolate that harm dogs are the methylxanthines called theobromine and caffeine. These are naturally occurring compounds that cause central nervous system stimulation. 

Caffeine reaches maximum blood levels 30-60 minutes after the dog eats it. Theobromine takes about 2 hours to reach maximum blood levels and has longer-lasting effects than caffeine. 

Dogs can’t metabolize caffeine and theobromine as well as humans. Dogs who eat a lot of chocolate may experience vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, muscle tremors, seizures and heart problems if they eat enough cocoa liquor. 

Although the main concern in this situation is chocolate poisoning, some of these drinks might also be high in fat if they’re made with cream. Some dogs can get an upset stomach from a high-fat meal while others can develop pancreatitis.

Cup of hot cocoa (dog drank hot chocolate)
Looks delicious, but should you worry if your dog drank hot chocolate?

Toxin Content of Chocolate Drinks

Cocoa powder and unsweetened baking chocolate bars have the most methylxanthines while milk chocolate has much less. You can consult your vet or this chocolate toxicity calculator to see if your dog ate enough chocolate to get sick from it.  

Another rule of thumb: a lethal dose is possible from one ounce of milk chocolate per one pound of body weight. In other words, a 10-pound dog would need to eat 10 ounces of milk chocolate (or about 6.5 standard-size Hershey® bars) to get a lethal dose. But they can still get very sick from eating only one Hershey bar.

Type of Chocolate DrinkTotal Methylxanthines 
Cocoa Powder21-27 mg/gram
Hot Cocoa Mix, 6 oz. serving64-145 mg/serving
Homemade Hot Cocoa (using 1 tablespoon cocoa powder)105-135 mg/serving
Cold Chocolate Milk Beverages63-145 mg/serving
Drinking Chocolate, 8 oz. homemade serving175-868 mg/serving

(References: 5,6)

Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in dogs range from very mild gastrointestinal signs to death. The degree of sickness depends on the type and amount of chocolate eaten as well as your dog’s body size. 

To calculate the dose of methylxanthines your dog ingested, your vet will need to know what kind of chocolate product was involved. They will calculate how many milligrams per pound your dog ate to figure out what level of toxicity to expect. Here are some general guidelines on methylxanthine/chocolate toxicity symptoms:

Total Methylxanthines Ingested Expected Toxic Symptoms in Dogs
20 mg/kg (9 mg/lb)MILD: Vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness
40 mg/kg (18 mg/lb)MODERATE: Agitation, increased urination, heart toxicity
60 mg/kg (27 mg/lb)SEVERE: Seizures
80-100+ mg/kg (36-45 mg/lb)LETHAL: Death

How Long After a Dog Eats Chocolate to See Symptoms?

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity may occur immediately if your dog eats a significant amount. The caffeine may cause shaking and hyperactivity. Vomiting is pretty common within an hour or two after a dog eats chocolate. 

The effects of caffeine can last around 9 hours. But the effects of theobromine can last about a day and a half. That means without treatment, a dog’s illness could get worse even if they seem fine in the first few hours of eating chocolate. (1)

Even if your dog seems fine now, veterinarians recommend that dogs who are NOT showing signs of chocolate toxicity stay in the clinic for at least 4-6 hours for observation. That way they can intervene with the appropriate treatment if they get worse.

It’s extremely important to get help from a vet immediately after you discover your dog has eaten chocolate, chocolate powder, or chocolate-flavored beverage. They can decontaminate by inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal. They can also treat deadly symptoms to help your dog survive.

How Much Instant Hot Chocolate Mix Is Toxic to Dogs?

The toxic dose of methylxanthines in dogs starts at 20 mg/kg. At that level, we start to see mild signs of chocolate toxicity including vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity. The following table lists the number of typical single-serving instant cocoa mix packets needed to cause different levels of chocolate toxicity in different sizes of dogs. 

Dog’s Weight in Pounds# of Packets of Instant Cocoa Mix Expected to Cause MILD Symptoms# of Packets of Instant Cocoa Mix Expected to Cause SEVERE Symptoms
50.40.7
100.71.4
151.12.1
201.42.9
302.14.3
402.95.7
503.67.2
604.38.6
705.010.0
805.711.5
906.412.9
1007.214.3

*THESE NUMBERS ARE ONLY A ROUGH GUIDE. Your dog could be more or less sick depending on the specific product he ingested. It’s always best to seek veterinary advice when your dog licks, drinks or eats any kind of chocolate. See the phone number and link at the top of the post for the animal poison control specialists.  

What if My Dog Drank Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate?

I contacted ConAgra™, the maker of the popular Swiss Miss® Cocoa mix. ConAgra reported that Swiss Miss Cocoa contains 9-12% cocoa powder. 

Standard Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Cocoa comes in 1.38 oz./39.1 g packets. I calculated that each packet contains 3.5-4.7 grams of cocoa powder and 66-127 grams of total methylxanthines.

If your dog weighs less than 10 pounds and ate an entire packet of Swiss Miss Cocoa mix, you should expect to see signs of chocolate toxicity. Dogs weighing over 10 pounds may experience mild symptoms after eating the same amount of Swiss Miss Cocoa powder. 

The larger the dog, the less likely they are to get sick after eating a single packet of this Swiss Miss cocoa mix. But you should still play it safe and call your vet!

What If My Dog Licked Homemade Hot Cocoa?

Most classic hot cocoa drink recipes call for 6-8 ounces of milk,1-2 tablespoons of sugar and about 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder per serving. A cup of homemade cocoa made this way contains approximately 140 mg of methylxanthines–the same amount in a packet of Swiss Miss mix. 

This amount could be toxic to dogs 20 pounds or less, assuming they drank an entire serving. If extra chocolate is added to the recipe, you have to take that into account when calculating the toxicity level. 

Dogs over 20 pounds might have mild vomiting and diarrhea from ingesting unfamiliar food, but we would not expect them to show signs like seizures or hyperactivity.

Summary

The chocolate contained in hot cocoa drink mixes can definitely cause poisoning in dogs.

Smaller dogs are at a higher risk of getting sick. If a 20-pound dog drinks or eats an entire serving of instant hot chocolate mix, you can expect vomiting and diarrhea. If they eat more than one serving, the symptoms will be more severe and could be deadly. 

Always err on the side of caution if your dog has eaten any type of chocolate. It’s easy to miscalculate toxic dosages. So if your pup took more than a lick or two of your hot cocoa, get your vet involved immediately.  

You can get excellent personal advice on whether your dog needs to see an emergency vet from the professionals at Pet Poison Helpline. Their fee was $75 at the time of publication and they will share all case information with your veterinarian if you do end up visiting a clinic.

Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661

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References

  1. Dolder LK, Peterson ME, Talcott PA: Methylxanthines: caffeine, theobromine, theophylline. Small Animal Toxicology, 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Saunders 201 pp. 647-652.
  2. Gwaltney-Brant, S. (2001, February 1). Chocolate Intoxication. ASPCAPro. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://aspcapro.org/sites/default/files/m-toxbrief_0201.pdf 
  3. Gwaltney-Brant, S. M. (2022, January 24). Chocolate toxicosis in animals – toxicology. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/food-hazards/chocolate-toxicosis-in-animals?autoredirectid=14433%3Fruleredirectid 
  4. Li, Y., Feng, Y., Zhu, S., Luo, C., Ma, J., & Zhong, F. (2012). The effect of alkalization on the bioactive and flavor related components in commercial cocoa powder. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 25(1), 17-23. 
  5. Shively, C. A., & Tarka Jr, S. M. (1984). Methylxanthine composition and consumption patterns of cocoa and chocolate products. Progress in clinical and biological research, 158, 149-178.
  6. Weingart, C., Hartmann, A., & Kohn, B. (2021). Chocolate ingestion in dogs: 156 events (2015–2019). Journal of Small Animal Practice, 62(11), 979-983.