You may have heard that chocolate can be fatal to dogs–but did you know that different chocolate products carry different risks? Chocolate contains an ingredient called theobromine (a compound similar to caffeine), but some kinds contain more theobromine than others.
Never allow your dog to eat chocolate., because all chocolate can make your dog sick, if he eats enough. Because cats are far more finicky about what they eat, theyíre typically much less likely to get into trouble by scarfing up a stash of chocolate. Many donít care for the taste of sweet foods at all. However, cats that do eat chocolate can become as sick as a dog would, and may require emergency care.
Unsweetened baking chocolate is the most dangerous of all chocolates, since it contains almost 10 times the amount of theobromine and caffeine as milk chocolate. Just one ounce (1 square) of unsweetened baking chocolate can kill a 10-pound dog (figure about ľ ounce for every 2.2 pounds as a fatal dose). Bakerís chocolate contains 390 milligrams of theobromine per ounce. Semisweet chocolate is the next most serious threat, containing 150 milligrams of theobromine per ounce. One ounce of this type of chocolate can kill a 3-pound dog. Milk chocolate contains 44 milligrams of theobromine per ounce.
Other products that contain theobromine, caffeine, or related compounds include cocoa beans, coffee, cola and tea, so youíll need to keep your pet away from these as well.
To prevent a poisoning incident, keep chocolate and other products containing theobromine or caffeine out of your petís reach. Just remember: Dogs love sweets. Many are capable of jumping up onto a counter or table and grabbing cookies, cakes, or other chocolate temptations.
Instruct children and visitors never to feed your dog chocolate as a treat. Many people who are unaware of the danger feed their dogs candy bars or cookies without causing obvious illness, but this is only because the dose of theobromine and caffeine in small amounts of milk chocolate is relatively low, especially for larger dogs.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Chocolate poisoning can cause vomiting, diarhhea, nervousness, restlessness, excitement, tremors, seizures, and even coma in dogs. Theobromine triggers the release of epinephrine (adrenaline), which makes a dogís heart race. This can progress to serious cardiac arrhythmias. Theobromine and caffeine affect your petís gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system. There is a diuretic effect as well. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, restlessness, increased urination, muscle tremors, excitability, irritability, and seizures.
What About White Chocolate?
Although ďwhite chocolateĒ may look and taste like the real thing, itís not really chocolate at all. Itís made from cocoa butter, and contains neither caffeine nor theobromine. White chocolate has no cocoa solids from the chocolate liquor, and is therefore not harmful to pets.
What to Do
Time is of the essence in these cases; seek emergency care immediately if yor dog has eaten chocolate! Call your vet (or one of the animal poison control centers) immediately. Following instructions, you may be able to induce vomiting by administering hydrogen peroxide (youíll be told the correct dosage)–which greatly increases the odds of survival.
There is no specific antidote for this poisoning, so vets usually recommend inducing vomiting to get rid of the chocolate. It takes about 17.5 hours for half of the toxin in chocolate to work its way through a dogís system, so you should induce vomiting in the first one or to hours after ingestion if you donít know how much chocolate your dog ate.
How to Induce Vomiting
In some poisoning cases, your vet or the Animal Poison Control Center will direct you to induce vomiting immediately. To make a dog vomit at home, you can force the pet to drink 3 percent household hydrogen peroxide (ask for the correct dosage, based on your petís weight; donít guess). Keep a bottle on hand in case of emergencies. But always call a poison control center or your vet before using it.
If you have activated charcoal at home, you may give your dog a dose to inhibit absorption of the toxin; the poison center will give you the correct dosage. In severe cases, your dog will need to be treated at the vetís office. Milk chocolate will often cause diarrhea 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. This should be treated symptomatically wih fluids to prevent dehydration.
At the Vet’s Office
Your vet may administer an anticonvulsant if neurological signs need to be controlled, along with oxygen therapy, intravenous medications, and fluids to protect the heart.
Adapted from Deadly Daffodils, Toxic Caterpillars by Christopher P. Holstege, M.D. and Carol Turkington (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)