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Dogs and Chocolate: A Deadly Combination

Dogs and Chocolate: A Deadly Combination

Dogs and chocolate can be a deadly combination. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain caffeine. Chocolate also contains dangerous chemical compound called Theo bromine, which can be toxic to your pet. The combination of caffeine and Theo bromine can affect your pet's gastrointestinal system, nervous system and heart, and could ultimately lead to seizures or cardiac arrest.

Even a small amount of chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The concentration of Theo bromine is highest in dark chocolate, making it the most potentially toxic. Baker's chocolate contains about 450 milligrams of Theo bromine per ounce; semi-sweet chocolate contains about 260 milligrams per ounce; and milk chocolate contains about 60 milligrams per ounce. Poisoning can occur at a dose as low as 220 milligrams per pound of body weight.

Dogs and chocolate are especially an issue around Easter, Halloween and the winter holidays. Dog—more than cats—are attracted to the smell and taste of chocolate, particularly if they've had it before. Always keep chocolate out of reach and teach children about the dangers of feeding chocolate to your family pet


What Happens When Dogs Eat Chocolate?

Several factors can determine how sick a dog may become if they eat chocolate, including weight, age, health and the type and amount of chocolate consumed. The smaller the pet, the less chocolate it takes to make them sick. For a 16-pound dog, it would only take four ounces of baker's chocolate (or one pound of milk chocolate); for a 10-pound cat, it would only take about one ounce of baker's chocolate. Chocolate is less appealing to cats since they do not have sweet taste receptors. Either way, keep chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, brownies or any other sweets containing chocolate out of reach, and place them out of reach when you leave a room.

At lower doses, the symptoms of Theo bromine poisoning are primarily gastrointestinal. At higher doses, your dog or cat could die from irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmia) or failure of the heart to beat (cardiac arrest). You may notice symptoms a couple of hours after your pet has eaten chocolate or it could take up to several hours.

Theo bromine poisoning can usually be treated if caught in the early stages. Call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435*) immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms in your pet:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive panting
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of coordination or wobbly movements (ataxia)
  • Elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Irregular heartbeats

* Be advised that there is a charge for this call. Please ask for the cost before proceeding.


Diagnosis

If you discover your dog eating chocolate, remove it immediately. Then, call your veterinarian, who will give you further instructions. If your veterinarian's office is closed for the holidays, call an emergency veterinarian or the Pet Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435*. You might need to begin treatment at home immediately, or you might need to head to a veterinarian's office. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian what type of chocolate your pet ate, what amount and when the chocolate was consumed, if known. Make note of any symptoms you have observed in your pet, and when they started. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, followed possibly by a chemical blood profile, electrolyte panel and a urinalysis. An ECG may also help determine if there are any heartbeat abnormalities.


Treatment

There is no antidote for Theo bromine poisoning, which is why prevention is so important. Treatment will depend on the severity of the poisoning. Your veterinarian may decide to induce vomiting by pumping (lavagong) your pet dog's stomach. To prevent further absorption, activated charcoal may be administered. Your pet may receive intravenous fluids and oxygen. In extreme cases, abnormal heart rhythms and seizures will be treated as they occur.


Prognosis

In most cases, your pet will recover from Theo bromine poisoning. With hospitalization and aggressive, supportive care (for at least 12–48 hours), your pet will likely recover. Occasionally a fatality occurs if a pet (usually a dog) has consumed a large amount of chocolate and treatment has been delayed until the chocolate has been fully absorbed.