The Christmas holiday season is upon us. In the season of giving, chocolate is a very popular gift people like to exchange. As a chocolate lover myself, I know how a chocolate indulgent can raise your spirits. As well as most people, dogs tend to have a “sweet tooth” too, but for dogs chocolate in large amounts is harmful and can even be fatal.
Chocolate is made from cacao beans. Cacao beans contain a toxic substance called Theobromine. Cacao beans also contain caffeine but in much smaller amounts than Theobromine. Both Theobromine and caffeine are members of a drug class called Methylxanines. The reason that Theobromine is toxic for dogs is because they process it much more slowly than humans. At 17 hours after the chocolate ingestion, half of the Theobromine is still in the dog’s system. Theobromine is also toxic to cats, however cats are less likely to ingest chocolate than dogs.
Theobromine and caffeine can adversely affect the nervous system and the heart. They can also lead to an increase in blood pressure. The early signs of chocolate intoxication are nausea (manifested by drooling and smacking the lips) vomiting, and excessive urination. Truly toxic amounts can induce hyperactivity, rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures and eventually respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
The more Theobromine a cocoa product contains, the more poisonous it is to your dog. Research shows that one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is potentially lethal. Dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate are the riskiest, whereas milk and white chocolate pose a much less serious risk. So, 20 ounces of milk chocolate, 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and just 2.25 ounces of baking chocolate could potentially kill a 22-pound dog. Small dogs are at greater risk of chocolate toxicity than large dogs. This is because they can be poisoned by small quantities of chocolate.
In most instances diagnosis is based upon physical exam findings in combination with a history of access to chocolate. There is no definitive test for chocolate ingestion.
Unfortunately Theobromine has no antidote (medication that can reverse the adverse effects). The treatment for chocolate toxicity is primarily supportive. Treatment focuses on addressing symptoms and problems that develop until the toxins are excreted by the body. In most cases, intoxication resolves within 24-36 hours. If the dog was presented shortly after the ingestion, attempts to reduce the poison absorption can be made by inducing vomiting or feeding active charcoal. Intravenous fluids and anti-seizure medication are also frequently required. Symptoms of intoxication usually occur 4-24 hours after the ingestion.
Prevention is the key. Keep all chocolate goodies in a non-accessible place for your pet. Don’t share any chocolate with your pet on any circumstances (yes, not even on its birthday).
If you suspect that your dog was exposed to chocolate, contact your veterinarian. The dog’s weight, the type and amount of the chocolate ingested are all important information for the vet in order to assess the dog’s risk and condition.
The holiday season is a wonderful time for families to spend time together and connect. Paying attention to your gluttonous pet’s eating is a one sure way of keeping you joyful and away from the vet’s office.