Dogs and Chocolate Are A Bad Combination
October is here, which means Halloween is just around the corner! During this time of year, one of the most prevalent dog emergencies that we see as veterinarians in Key West is Chocolate Toxicity. Apparently, dogs like to indulge their sweet tooth just as much as we do. Do you know what to do if your dog helps himself to your chocolate stash?
What makes chocolate toxic to your dog?
While we rarely see fatal chocolate ingestions when appropriate medical care is received, it is still a very serious toxicity. The toxic components of chocolate are Theobromine and caffeine. These chemicals act similarly by causing diuresis, rapid heartbeat, blood vessel dilation, and relaxation of smooth muscles. Unfortunately, dogs are not able to metabolize these chemicals the same way we are, thereby causing the severe toxic effects that dogs experience.
Some dogs can experience very serious gastrointestinal upset (vomiting/diarrhea) and/or pancreatitis, even if they don’t ingest enough chocolate to cause the acute toxicity. Without medical intervention gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis can also put your dog is a very serious medical situation. Even if your pet does not ingest enough chocolate to be toxic, it is still recommended that you seek medical attention in order to lessen the likelihood and severity of gastrointestinal side effects.
How much chocolate is toxic for a dog?
All chocolate is not created equally. By far the most serious toxicity occurs when a pet ingests dark chocolate or chocolate baking powder. The concentration of theobromine and caffeine in these products poses a very serious risk to your pet. While milk chocolate has less theobromine and caffeine in it, it can still be toxic if ingested in large enough quantities.
If your pet ingests chocolate, we strongly suggest that you contact your veterinarian and ASPCA Animal Poison Control for advice as soon as possible. If the ingestion has occurred in the last 1-2 hours, your veterinarian may be able to “decontaminate” your pet by emesis induction (induce vomiting) or gastric lavage to prevent or decrease the severity of the toxic symptoms. There are chocolate toxicity calculators available on the internet for informational purposes, like the link below, but we strongly recommend that you ALWAYS consult a veterinarian and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control to be certain about your pet’s medical needs and risks after a chocolate ingestion.
Other Substances of Concern Often Ingested WITH Chocolate
Especially at this time of year, we must also consider what else might be in the chocolate your pet has ingested. Substances of concern include (but are not limited to) raisins, macadamia nuts, THC, and xylitol.
Raisin toxicity in dogs is poorly understood. What we do know is that many dogs can suffer irreversible kidney damage from ingestion of even a few raisins, while other dogs seem completely unaffected. Because this can be a life-threatening toxicity, even in very small ingestions, we treat every dog as if they will suffer the worst consequences.
The basis of treatment for raisin ingestion is decontamination, intravenous fluid support, and frequent checks of kidney values on lab work. As with chocolate toxicity, we strongly recommend immediate consultation with your veterinarian, the closest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Pet Poison Control hotline if your pet ingests raisins with or without chocolate.
Like raisin ingestion, the toxic principal and predictability of this toxicity in dogs is poorly understood. Also, similarly to raison ingestion, there is variability in each dog’s sensitivity to this toxicity. In other words, it is hard to predict which dogs will show symptoms and exactly how many macadamia nuts it takes to produce these symptoms. For this reason, we treat these cases on the basis of worst-case scenario and treat every pet as if the symptoms will occur.
Symptoms of macadamia nut toxicity can include vomiting, staggering gait, lethargy, tremors, and elevated body temperature. If the macadamia nuts in question are combined with chocolate the symptoms may be greatly exacerbated. As with chocolate toxicity, and raisin toxicity we strongly recommend immediate consultation with your veterinarian, the closest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Pet Poison Control hotline if your pet ingests macadamia nuts, with or without chocolate.
Xylitol is a very serious toxicity when it comes to dogs. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener commonly found in sugar free gums, candies, granola/protein bars, and soft drinks. This toxicity can cause SEVERE hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and liver damage or liver failure in dogs. The signs of the toxicity can occur in as little as 30 minutes, or if the xylitol is attached to a slow release carrier, as long as 12-18 hours after the ingestion. These slow release carriers, and delayed onset of symptoms if of special concern if products like chewing gum.
Xylitol ingestions often require immediate decontamination, blood sugar support with intravenous fluids, and close monitoring of blood sugar and liver values on blood work. As with the other substances of concern, if the xylitol is combined with chocolate the symptoms can be greatly exacerbated. As with chocolate, raisin, and macadamia nut ingestion or toxicity, we STRONGLY recommend IMMEDIATE consultation with your veterinarian, the closest emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Pet Poison Control hotline if you pet ingests xylitol with or without chocolate.
THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. As medical marijuana and edible marijuana products gain traction in our communities, the incidence of accidental ingestion by dogs has increased exponentially. Although this toxicity can cause serious symptoms in dogs, it is rarely fatal if treated appropriately. The symptoms of THC toxicity in dogs are primarily neurologic signs. These dogs may have large, dilated pupils and appear to fall asleep sitting up and then startle themselves awake with an exaggerated response. Other common symptoms include dribbling urine, low heart rate, drooling, trembling, and unusual vocalization.
The treatment for THC toxicity primarily involves decontamination, IV fluid support, and occasionally medications to calm the pet if they are anxious, paranoid, or trembling. The signs and symptoms of THC toxicity can be greatly exacerbated if the THC is combined with chocolate. Once again, we strongly urge you to consult your veterinarian, the closest local emergency clinic, and the ASPCA Pet Poison Control hotline if your pet is exposed to THC with or without chocolate.
How Can You Prevent Chocolate Toxicity in Your Dog?
1. Store chocolate products, desserts, and especially Halloween Candy up high and locked away, well out of reach for your curious and mischievous dog.
2. Don't forget things like bags of chocolate chips or chocolate baking powder that your are storing for use later. Ensure that these products are stored out of your dogs reach in cabinets or pantries.
3. If your pet ingests chocolate with or without other potential toxins seek medical advice from your veterinarian and ASPCA Pet Poison Control AS SOON AS POSSIBLE after the ingestion occurs. If we are able to decontaminate these pets as soon as possible the symptoms and toxicity can be greatly reduced or even prevented.