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What About White Chocolate?

Everyone knows that chocolate is poisonous to our pets, but what if the chocolate doesn’t have cocoa in it? Our Education Officer, Daniel Tipping, has found that when it comes to white chocolate, things aren’t quite as clear…

The game is simple; if the food item is safe for pets, it goes in the bowl — if not, it goes in the bin. That’s the premise of Bowl or Bin, an activity I’ve been taking to schools this year as part of the Home’s new education programme.

During the game, I quiz students on seemingly harmless foods, like grapes and avocado, which most would assume are safe but are actually quite problematic. Chocolate is more commonly known to be harmful to pets, and students are always quick to direct it straight into the bin. Until one day I threw them a curveball by asking “what about white chocolate?”

It’s now been a couple of months since I’ve started asking this question during Bowl or Bin, and I’ve been surprised how much confusion it’s caused. Some students are firm in their answer of “it’s still chocolate!”, some are on the fence, while others assume that chocolate sans cocoa is a safe snack. Recently, I visited a school where more than half the students voted white chocolate an acceptable treat for our pets.

To clear up the confusion once and for all: white chocolate is not safe for pets, but for different reasons than milk or dark chocolate.

The toxic component of chocolate is the chemical theobromine, found in cocoa and therefore in higher quantities as the chocolate becomes darker. While white chocolate doesn’t have cocoa powder, it does still have cocoa butter — so theobromine will still be present, just much less so. Dogs would need to eat a very large amount of white chocolate to risk theobromine poisoning, but that doesn’t make it safe. Cocoa butter is still very high in fat, which, aside from potential weight gain, can easily cause an upset stomach. White chocolate is also very high in sugar, and some brands may use artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, another chemical that’s toxic to pets. Other chocolates such as dairy-free or sugar-free can remove some risks, but still doesn’t make them safe. The only acceptable chocolate is the pet-friendly kind, which has all the dangerous bits removed and replaced with safer alternatives.

Of course, mistakes happen and if you’re concerned that your dog or cat got greedy and ate some chocolate — of any colour — your first call should be to the vet. Some of the signs of toxicity to look out for include vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, and muscle tremors. Large quantities of chocolate could lead to pancreatitis and heart problems, and can even be fatal.

Overall, the take-home message from Bowl or Bin is simple: if you’re not certain the food is safe, it’s best avoided. Many foods can be quite confusing and there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but at the end of the day, the best food, snacks and treats for our pets are the ones made specifically for them.

Interested in a round of Bowl or Bin, and learning more about pet-friendly foods? Our education programme can cover this and a range of other topics and is free to schools, groups, clubs, workplaces and more. To arrange a visit, contact Daniel at daniel@edch.org.uk.

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