Candy in general is a serious no-no for dogs, but chocolate particularly carries serious and sometimes deadly side effects if consumed in large enough quantities. Our California vets tell you everything you need to know about chocolate poisoning in dogs
Chocolate Consumption in Dogs
Chocolate ingestion is among the most frequent causes for calls made to the Animal Poison Control Center. While much of the public knows that chocolate can be harmful to our pets, very few understand the gravity of the risks, what makes it dangerous, and what to do in the event that your dog eats it
At Inland Valley Veterinary Specialists toxicity from chocolate, consumption is one of the leading causes for patients needing emergency care. The risk increases further around chocolate-fueled holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, and Easter when pet owners are more likely to leave snacks out where their canine companions can nab them.
We often love our dogs like people, so it can be easy to forget that just because something is fine for us does not mean it is ok for our furry friends.
Toxins in Chocolate
Methylxanthines are naturally occurring compounds that are found in certain plants. They have been used by humans for hundreds of years and many Americans consume it daily with their morning coffee. The forms that are present in most chocolates are caffeine and theobromine. Both work as stimulants and are harmful if ingested by our pets.
When we think of caffeine, we tend to think of its relation to beverages such as coffee, tea, and soda. Caffeine is also present in chocolate that contains cocoa (dark, milk, and semi-sweet). Dogs and cats do not have the ability to metabolize caffeine in the way that humans do. While small amounts can cause mild gastrointestinal signs, large amounts can be fatal.
Theobromine works similarly to caffeine in that it is a stimulant and a diuretic. It is also the most dangerous ingredient in chocolate when it comes to our dogs. While humans have the capability of metabolizing theobromine quickly, dogs and cats do not. Depending on the amount ingested, this stimulant can build up in our pet’s system, producing symptoms that can be mild to life-threatening. Because of the longer half-life produced, if ingested in the right quantities, dogs can exhibit the negative side effects of theobromine for days.
Knowing the amount of theobromine ingested allows your veterinarian to determine the severity of the toxicity and foresee the possible side effects.
Dark Chocolate is Especially Harmful
It is important for pet owners to understand that different types of chocolate carry different amounts of theobromine. While white chocolate carries very little theobromine, bitter chocolates such as baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder have the potential to carry fatal levels. With so much variation in the amount and type, how can owners be sure if the dose ingested is harmful?
If you are unsure if your dog ate enough chocolate to be harmful, you can call the ASPCA Poison Control hotline from home at 1-888-426-4435 for a small fee. If provided with the dog’s weight, chocolate type, and the approximate amount of ingested chocolate, the ASPCA veterinary toxicologists can calculate a dog’s risk of side effects. When in doubt, it is better to error on the side of caution and contact your veterinarian
Symptoms of Chocolate Consumption in Dogs
The symptoms that your dog displays will vary depending on the amount of theobromine ingested. Mild symptoms range from lethargy and gastrointestinal upset to severe side effects that include hyperexcitability, racing heart, abnormal behavior, sedation, or seizures.
Treatment of Chocolate Consumption in Dogs
Treatment of chocolate ingestion depends on the size of the dog, the type of chocolate ingested, and the dog’s weight. If the amount ingested is below a toxic level, the owner may be able to simply monitor their pet at home. If the dose is determined to be toxic, however, an immediate treatment plan must be implemented by you and your veterinarian.
In the event that your dog does receive a toxic dose seek treatment from a veterinarian as soon as possible. It is a toxicity that we have a lot of experience in treating and with the right tools, the theobromine dose and predicted side effects can be determined.
If the ingestion of chocolate is recent, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to rid the stomach of any chocolate before it can be metabolized. A veterinary hospital can do this safely using a fast-acting drug known as apomorphine. If an owner is more than 2 hours away, the Animal Poison Control Center may be able to provide the owner with an oral dosage of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. It is never safe to induce vomiting in a dog that already displays side effects of chocolate toxicity. If your dog is already exhibiting any of the severe symptoms mentioned earlier, get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If the first dose of hydrogen peroxide doesn’t induce vomiting, owners should not repeat the dosage. Repeated administration of hydrogen peroxide can cause mild to severe irritation of the lining of the esophagus and stomach.
Whether or not the stomach contents can be emptied, continued treatment may be recommended at a veterinary hospital. While there is no antidote for theobromine toxicity, symptoms can be appropriately managed with intravenous fluids and the administration of activated charcoal. If necessary, sedation can be provided for the pet’s hyperexcitability. Most patients with chocolate toxicity carry a good prognosis with appropriate treatment.
It is important to mention that chocolate is also toxic to the feline members of our household. However, cats tend to be less likely to ingest things that they shouldn’t and it isn’t something we commonly see in the veterinary setting. If your cat should happen to eat chocolate, the same urgency should be taken in notifying your veterinarian. Treatment for chocolate toxicity in cats is similar to dogs, minus the mentioned medications used to induce vomiting.
Chocolate is Great, But Keep it Up on a High Shelf
While we all enjoy ravenously and voraciously eating chocolate from time to time, being mindful of the placement and storage of your chocolate stash is part of being a responsible pet owner.
If you're concerned that your dog has eaten chocolate, get to your primary care veterinarian right away or come to our emergency animal hospital in Upland. Call us ahead if you can.