Chocolate and Springtime Go Great Together. Chocolate and Dogs Do Not.

Apr 14, 2020 | Emergency Situations

Spring has arrived. The weather is getting warmer, flowers are blooming, and children are gobbling up their Easter chocolate. This means it’s also likely that dogs are finding, and eating, a lot of chocolate.

Chocolate: A Delicious Holiday Danger

Chocolate is one of the most common toxins seen in veterinary medicine. These cases are even more frequent around holidays. In an ideal world, simply putting candies and cakes on a counter, or storing them in a cabinet, should prevent this. But,dogs have extremely sensitive noses. Plus, they are highly motivated by food. So, often they get around our best defenses.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Experiencing Chocolate Toxicity

If your dog does eat chocolate, any ill effects they might have usually appear between two and four hours after ingestion. Generally the GI tract is affected first, so your dog may start vomiting or having diarrhea. Next, the heart can be affected, leading to arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is where the heart beats faster, slower, or irregularly. Finally, symptoms can advance to include the nervous system. This results in muscle tremors and even seizures.

The total range of symptoms can last 12-36 hours. The severity of these negative effects depends on the amount and type of chocolate ingested, as well as the size of the dog in question. Some pets, sadly, can actually die from eating chocolate.

The Darker the Chocolate, The Greater the Danger

The toxic chemicals in chocolate are theobromine and, to a lesser extent, caffeine. Typically, these ingredients will be higher concentrated in chocolates that are darker and have less sweetener. Just look at these examples to see how the concentrations increase relative to the levels of darkness and sweetness:

  • 1oz. of white chocolate has 0.25mg theobromine and 0.85mg caffeine.
  • An Oreo cookie has 15mg theobromine and 2.4mg caffeine.
  • 1oz. of milk chocolate has 50mg theobromine and 6mg caffeine
  • 1oz. dark chocolate has 138mg and 22mg
  • 1oz. of baking chocolate has 393mg and 35-47mg.
  • The most dangerous of all is unsweetened cocoa. An ounce of this contains 737mg theobromine and 70mg caffeine. The toxic dose of these chemicals is also dependent on the weight of the animal. So it takes less chocolate to make a small dog sick than a larger one.

What to do if Your Dog Ingests Chocolate

Call your vet as soon as you realize your dog has eaten chocolate. Do not wait to see if your pet gets sick. When you call, we will need to know your dog’s weight, the type of chocolate it ate, and the amount it ate. If possible, we’d also want to know when your dog ate the chocolate. If there is any packaging for the chocolate, save it. The information on the wrapper allows us to calculate the chocolate’s toxicity level.

If your dog did not eat a lot of chocolate relative to its weight, or if the chocolate had low levels of theobromine and caffeine, we may tell you to monitor your pet at home. If you observe any vomiting, diarrhea, or other changes, call us back.

If Your Pet Eats a Dangerous Amount of Chocolate

If the ingestion is recent (within the last few hours) and we are concerned about toxicity we may have you bring your pet into the clinic so we can make him or her vomit. If it has been longer than a few hours, we can still give your dog medications to try to prevent or decrease the body’s absorption of the chocolate. We may also use IV fluids to flush out the toxins.

If your pet is already showing signs of chocolate toxicity we can do an exam to assess the severity of the situation. We can listen to your pet’s heart to check for an arrhythmia and determine if the heart rate is elevated. We can also tell from an exam if your dog is dehydrated or showing any neurologic signs. Depending on what we find we may treat your pet symptomatically and send her home, hospitalize him, or potentially recommend she go to the emergency clinic especially if heart or neurologic abnormalities are noted.

Keep All Candy Away From Your Pets

In general try to keep all chocolate candy, cakes, and cookies away from your pets. If your dog does happen to eat it, call your vet as soon as possible and follow their recommendations. Remember, the smaller the animal, the larger the amount eaten, and the darker/less sweet the chocolate, the more critical the situation.

Dr. Lindsay Laird

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