As Valentine's Day approaches, you may be planning to enjoy some chocolates and candies. While these sweet treats delight us, they can pose significant risks to our pets. Understanding what's enjoyable for us but might be harmful for our furry friends is important during this sweet holiday. 

As pet owners, we understand how tempting it can be to share treats with your pets. They look at you with those adorable eyes, begging for a bite of whatever you eat. But as responsible pet parents, we must resist the urge to share our chocolates and candies with them.   

Understanding the danger: What's harmful about chocolate and candy for pets?

The primary danger that chocolate poses to pets, particularly dogs, is a compound called theobromine. Theobromine is a stimulant that affects the nervous system and cardiovascular systems of pets. While humans can efficiently metabolize theobromine, pets cannot. As a result, it can build up to toxic levels in their system, leading to serious health complications.

Candy, on the other hand, contains high amounts of sugar that can lead to obesity, dental problems, and diabetes in pets. Some candies also contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which can be highly toxic to pets. Just like chocolate, pets cannot metabolize xylitol, leading to a rapid decrease in their blood sugar levels and potentially causing liver failure.

The health risks of chocolate to pets

The health risks of chocolate to pets can range from mild to severe, depending on the quantity ingested and the size of the pet. The symptoms of chocolate poisoning in pets can include restlessness, excessive thirst, abdominal discomfort, muscle tremors, irregular heartbeat, high body temperature, seizures, and in severe cases, death.

Dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate have the highest levels of theobromine and pose the most significant risk to pets. The effects of chocolate poisoning can take several hours to show. 

While dogs are most affected due to their tendency to eat anything they find, cats and other pets are also at risk.   

The dangers of candy and artificial sweeteners for pets 

Like chocolate, candies, and artificial sweeteners can pose significant health risks to pets. Xylitol can cause a rapid decrease in a pet's blood sugar levels, leading to symptoms such as weakness, vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures, and, in severe cases, liver failure. Even a small amount of xylitol can be deadly to pets. It's in many sugar-free candies, gum, baked goods, and peanut butter brands. 

Long haired cray cat under a kissing booth sign.
Photo by Reba Spike via Unsplash.

What to do if your pet eats chocolate or candy

"If your dog consumes only one or two small milk chocolates, it's unlikely they will experience a toxic reaction, especially if it's a bigger dog. However, the situation becomes more concerning if you're baking brownies and your pet snatches a bunch of baker’s chocolate off the countertop", says Jenny Marin, clinical assistant professor, Community Practice in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, Virginia. "The amount of chocolate, the type of chocolate, especially if it's like gourmet dark chocolate, and the size of your dog are all important."

If you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate or candy, acting quickly is crucial. The first step Marin recommends is to call one of the pet poison hotlines, such as the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, at (888) 426-4435. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is a first-rate resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours each day of the year (a consultation fee may apply.) They also list poisonous plants, people foods to avoid feeding your pet, and toxic household products on their website.

Another alternative and valuable resource is the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 (fee may apply).

If you do end up at the veterinarian, provide as much information as possible about what your pet has ingested. This can help the vet determine the best course of action. Depending on the severity of the situation, your pet may need to stay at the clinic or hospital for monitoring and treatment.  

Preventing Valentine's Day pet accidents: Tips for securing your sweets

Prevention is the best way to protect your pet from the dangers of chocolates and candies. Here are some tips to keep your sweets secure this Valentine's Day:

  • Keep all chocolates and candies out of your pets' reach. Store them in high cabinets or locked drawers.

  • Dispose of wrappers properly. The smell may attract pets and eat the wrappers, leading to choking or intestinal blockage.

  • If you're giving or receiving chocolates or candies as gifts, ensure they're stored securely before and after opening.

Alternatives to chocolate and candy: Valentine's treats for pets

Just because chocolates and candies are off-limits for pets doesn't mean they can't enjoy some Valentine's Day treats. There are many pet-friendly treat options available that your pets will love.

For dogs, consider giving them dog-friendly biscuits or chews. You can make homemade treats using pet-safe ingredients like pumpkin, peanut butter (without xylitol), and carrots.

For cats, consider giving them catnip toys or special cat treats. You can make homemade cat treats using pet-safe ingredients like tuna, salmon, or catnip.

Treats should be given in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Always consult your vet before introducing new foods to your pet's diet.

We can make a difference in our pets' lives as pet owners. Let's use that power to keep them safe and healthy. After all, a safe pet is a happy pet, which makes a happy pet parent.

Jenny Marin, is a clinical assistant professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech. 

Since 2022, she has been a faculty member in community practice and small animal clinical sciences at the veterinary college. Marin's research interests lie in general practice small animal dentistry, low-stress veterinary visits, fear-free handling, and providing high-quality preventative care. Her dedication to advancing veterinary medicine is reflected in her commitment to both clinical practice and academic instruction.


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing