When dogs consume a certain amount of chocolate, they can develop serious and potentially deadly symptoms. Today, our Stuart vets explain why chocolate is toxic to dogs and how you can recognize the signs of chocolate poisoning in our canine companions.
Chocolate Toxicity In Dogs
In 2016, chocolate ingestion was on the top 10 list for calls made to the Animal Poison Control Center. While lots of people might have a general understanding that chocolate can be dangerous for pets, very few people actually know what makes it dangerous to dogs and what to do if their pup consumes it.
Chocolate ingestion is one of the most common toxicities seen at animal hospitals, which is especially true at veterinary emergency centers. The risk increases further around chocolate-fueled holidays like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.
It can seem confusing. People eat chocolate all the time – sometimes in large quantities. Why is it poisonous for dogs?
Why Chocolate Is Toxic To Dogs
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 them every day with their morning coffee. The forms that are present in most chocolates are caffeine and theobromine. Both work as stimulants and can be harmful to our pets if they ingest them.
When we think of caffeine, we often think of its relation to drinks like coffee, tea, and soda. But did you know that caffeine is also present in chocolates that contain cocoa (dark, milk, and semi-sweet)? Dogs and cats can't metabolize caffeine the same way humans do. While small amounts can cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms, 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 chocolate ingredient for 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 lets your veterinarian assess the severity of the toxicity and foresee the possible side effects.
Not All Chocolates Are Made Equal
It is important for pet owners to know that different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine. While white chocolate carries very little theobromine, bitter chocolates such as baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder could include potentially fatal levels. With so much variation in the amount and type, how can owners tell if the dose their pup ingested is harmful?
If you don't know if your dog consumed enough chocolate for it to be harmful, you can call the ASPCA Poison Control hotline from home at 1-888-426-4435 for a small fee. If you tell them your dog’s weight, chocolate type, and the approximate amount of chocolate they ingested, the ASPCA veterinary toxicologists can calculate your dog’s risk of side effects.
Signs & Symptoms of Dog Chocolate Poisoning
The symptoms that your dog exhibits will vary based 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.
Treating Chocolate Poisoning In Dogs
The treatments used to treat your dog's chocolate poisoning will depend on the size of your dog, the type of chocolate they ingested, and your pup's weight. If the amount ingested is below a toxic level, you may be able to simply monitor your pet at home. However, if the dose is determined to be toxic you and your vet will have to implement a treatment plan immediately.
If your dog did ingest a toxic dose, seek veterinary treatment as quickly as possible. It is a toxin we have a lot of experience treating and with the right tools, the theobromine dose and predicted side effects can be determined.
If your pup ingested the toxin recently, 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 is already showing side effects of chocolate poisoning. If your dog is already exhibiting any of the severe symptoms detailed above, bring them to your vet or the nearest emergency animal hospital immediately. 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 cats. However, cats tend to be less likely to ingest things that they shouldn’t and it isn’t something we see often in the veterinary setting. If your cat does 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.
Make Sure Chocolate Is kept Out of Your Dog's Reach
While we all enjoy eating delicious chocolate, being mindful of the placement and storage of your chocolate stash can help eliminate the stress of a possible emergency visit to your veterinarian. You should make sure that all candy is stored in closed containers that are completely out of your pet’s reach.