With the holidays nearing, it bears reminding that chocolate is a no-no for pets. Yes, a lot of us know that, but most of us don’t know why or just how toxic it is to them. Additionally, many people have no idea that different types of chocolate are worse for pets than others. That’s because most of us are only vaguely aware of the fact it’s bad for them but we’ve never really investigated why.
Chocolate Toxicity in Pets
Humans love to gobble the yummy stuff that melts in your mouth and leads to elevated levels of endorphins (natural opiates) and serotonin (a mood-altering chemical by which many antidepressants act). It’s also thought to reduce bad cholesterol, boost your immune system and protect you from heart disease. In pets, though, it can lead to death. That’s because people process substances known as methylxanthines (specifically caffeine and theobromine) while pets do not.
If you’re wondering what theobromine is, it’s a primary alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate. For some reason, humans can break down and excrete methylxanthines such as theobromine much more efficiently than dogs can. It’s this inability to do so on their part that ultimately leads to chocolate poisoning. Interestingly, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the worse it is for pets.
Differences Between Chocolates
This is especially true of Baker’s chocolate. For instance, 8 oz. of plain milk chocolate can render a 50-pound dog ill, whereas an animal of the same size can be poisoned by as little as 1 oz. of Baker's chocolate. During the holidays, especially Christmas, chocolate is everywhere. And it’s not just chocolates, it’s products containing cocoa and chocolate that can be harmful. There’s an extensive list of common household products containing caffeine and theobromine on PetMD for your referral.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning
The symptoms in connection to chocolate poisoning range from the mild to the severe. Hopefully you won’t ever have to witness your pet experiencing them, but they include vomiting, diarrhea, raised body temperature, increased reflex responses, rigidity in muscles, rapid breathing and elevated heart rate, low blood pressure and seizures. Extreme symptoms are cardiac failure, weakness and coma.
What to Do in the Case of Chocolate Poisoning
It’s important to note that the sooner you get your pet in to see a veterinarian in the event of any type of poisoning, the better it will be all the way around. Besides the financial aspects being lower with early treatment, the process is less invasive and there’s a much better chance for a positive prognosis or outcome. Once your dog has already begun to exhibit clinical signs and is affected by the toxin, it makes for a much more difficult and expensive trip to the vet that doesn’t always end well.
Pet Poison Helpline
As soon as you become aware that your dog has ingested chocolate, you need to call the pet poison helpline or your veterinarian. Even during the holidays there should be an emergency referral service your vet can point you to. If not, the Pet Poison Helpline should be able to assist you. Immediately try to determine just exactly what kind and how much chocolate your pet has eaten and how much your pet weighs. These factors can greatly aid professionals in their assessment for treatment.
Pet Safety During the Holidays
In order to keep your pets safe during the holidays, there are a few precautions you should take. First off, don’t leave sweets and boxes of chocolates on coffee or end tables where they can easily be reached. The minute your back is turned, they’ll get into them. This includes sealed bags and closed or unopened boxes. If they can smell it, they’ll get in it. The same goes for leaving these items near the edges of kitchen tables and even counter tops. It’s amazing how stealth-like and sneaky dogs can be.
So, play it safe this holiday season and avoid a visit to the vet by reducing or minimizing the opportunity for your pets to come into contact with toxins of any kind.