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Chocolate: Not So Sweet

Chocolate may be a delicacy to us, but for our four-legged friends it can be lethal.  Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a type of methylxanthine.  This substance is similar to caffeine.  Pets metabolize it much more slowly than people making them at risk to its toxic effects.

Simply put: the darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is.  Baker’s, dark, and semisweet chocolate have concentrated amounts of theobromine that make it much more toxic than milk chocolate.  According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, sings of toxicity are evident with the ingestion of 10 mg of theobromine per pound of body weight. This means that unsweetened baker’s chocolate is toxic when your pet eats just 0.025 ounces per pound of body weight.Chocolate Chips

The toxic dose in cats is even lower, but some believe they are less likely to ingest chocolate because they are unable to taste its sweet flavor.

Low level ingestion in cats and dogs can cause increased drinking, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  As the amount of chocolate ingestion rises, you begin to see panting, restlessness, and a racing heartbeat.  With large exposures, seizures, arrhythmias,  and sudden death are possible.  Signs of toxicity can develop quickly and last for several days.

If your pet eats chocolate, it is vital to estimate how much was ingested.  If the dose is near the toxic level, it is very important to have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian.  Treatment success depends on timely decontamination by the induction of vomiting.  Caution needs to be used if the patient is exhibiting clinical signs.  Vomiting in a debilitated patient can result in the aspiration of vomitus, dramatically affecting the prognosis for a successful treatment.  If treated quickly (within 1 hour of ingestion), all we typically need to do is induce vomiting to remove the chocolate before it is absorbed. If more time has elapsed since ingestion, then it is often necessary to administer activated charcoal; this further assists decontamination by absorbing and removing toxins.  Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids can be used to assist the body in clearing any toxin that may have been absorbed.  Theobromine can be reabsorbed across the wall of the urinary bladder, so frequent trips outside or a urethral catheter can assist in excretion of the toxin.  If signs develop, they can be treated with sedatives to reduce stimulation and prevent seizures.  Medications can be used to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and resolve arrhythmias if indicated.

If your pet is exposed to chocolate, please do not hesitate to call River Cove Animal Hospital to discuss the need for treatment.

Dangerous Quantities of Chocolate

Dog's Weight (lbs)Amount of Milk Chocolate (oz)Amount of Chocolate Chips (oz)Amount of Unsweetened Chocolate (oz)Approximate Amount of Theobromine (mg)
Warning: Individual sensitivities can vary. These values are approximations only. Please consult your veterinarian if your pet has a pre-existing condition, is near toxic levels, or is exhibiting clinical signs. Some chocolates also contain caffeine that can enhance chocolate's toxic effects.

From: Plunket, S.J. Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian Second Edition