White chocolate contains harmful cocoa butter, sugar and milk but only tiny amounts of toxic theobromine
Emergency vets have confirmed white chocolate is highly unlikely to poison a dog, even if it is labelled as being high in cocoa solids.
It’s long been known that dark and milk chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine which is severely toxic to dogs. Some reports have suggested certain brands of white chocolate are also dangerous as they contain up to “35% cocoa solids”.
But, with reference to white chocolate labelling, this term only relates to the fat from cocoa, otherwise known as cocoa butter, which does not contain theobromine. Dave Leicester, head of clinical intelligence at Vets Now, said the disclosure debunks a theory that has been gaining traction.
He explained: “We’ve always known that white chocolate is bad for dogs due to it containing high levels of fat and sugar. If eaten in large enough quantities, these ingredients can cause stomach upsets and, in extreme cases, may lead to serious illness.
“But the advice we’ve always given pet owners is that white chocolate is highly unlikely to cause theobromine toxicity as it contains only negligible amounts of the chemical. However, more recently, certain luxury chocolate brands have started producing white chocolate that, according to the label, contains up to 35% cocoa solids.
“Given that theobromine comes from cocoa beans, this has caused confusion among pet owners and vets about whether these products contain theobromine.”
Dave, who is an experienced emergency and critical care vet and is also involved in the development of evidence-based medicine at Vets Now, decided to research the issue.
He wrote to some of the chocolate manufacturers involved in labelling their white chocolate as containing cocoa solids and studied Food Standards Agency (FSA) legislation.
Dave added: “Unusually, the FSA definition of cocoa solids on chocolate labels includes both non-fat cocoa solids, which contain theobromine, as well as cocoa butter components, which don’t. Most other definitions of cocoa solids exclude the fat, cocoa butter component.
“As there are no non-fat cocoa solids in white chocolate, there is no natural theobromine content. This is regardless of the brand. Furthermore, the chocolate manufacturers contacted have confirmed that they do not artificially supplement their chocolate with additional theobromine.
“As a result of these findings our advice to pet owners remains the same in that white chocolate poses very little theobromine toxicity risk. There are, of course, other potential risks from white chocolate due to the high fat and sugar content, but those are at lower end of the risk spectrum.”
Owners who suspect their pet has eaten a toxic amount of chocolate should not wait for signs or symptoms to appear before they contact a vet. Instead, they should telephone their vet immediately or, out of hours, their nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.
All of Vets Now’s 58 clinics and pet emergency hospitals have a vet and vet nurse on site at all times.