Chocolate Toxicity

Let’s face it. Chocolate is a treat that is hard to resist, and while indulging in too much chocolatey goodness might mean gaining a few unwanted extra pounds for us; it can be a lot more dangerous for our canine friends.

When a dog consumes chocolate, it can lead to illness and even death from chocolate poisoning, otherwise known as chocolate toxicity. It is a problem with which the staff at the Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital (REACH) of Asheville and Asheville Veterinary Specialists is well acquainted.

“It’s one of the most common toxicities we see,” said Dr. Randy Wetzel, medical director at REACH and AVS.

What is it?

Although humans can safely eat fairly large quantities of chocolate, even small amounts of the sweet stuff can be dangerous for dogs.

Chocolate contains caffeine and a chemical called theobromine, and both are bad for dogs.

While humans can process caffeine and theobromine relatively quickly, dogs metabolize these substances much more slowly, which means they can reach toxic levels in a dog’s body quickly and they remain in its system much longer.

The darker the chocolate, the worse the problem is.

“Unsweetened cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain higher amounts of toxins than milk chocolate,” Wetzel said, but he added, larger quantities of milk chocolate can still be dangerous.

Symptoms:

Dogs can experience vomiting and diarrhea from eating small amounts of chocolate, but the symptoms can take hours to develop and by then, it might have reached toxic levels.

Toxic amounts of chocolate can cause hyperactivity, high blood pressure, increased thirst, an increased heart rate, tremors and sometimes seizures. Severe cases can lead to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, which is why it is important to consult a veterinarian any time a dog has ingested any amount of chocolate.

The vet can help determine if the amount of chocolate is toxic and if the dog needs treatment.

“Not every dose of chocolate ingestion is toxic,” Wetzel explained. “We have a chocolate calculator that considers the patients weight, the type of chocolate and the amount ingested. The calculator is intended to be a guide as some individuals may be more sensitive than others and some brands of chocolate may be more toxic to dogs than other chocolates. If in doubt, it is best to treat.”

How is it treated?

If a dog needs to be treated, it is always best to have it treated by a veterinarian.

Giving a dog peroxide to induce vomiting is a common “home remedy,” but this method isn’t recommended.

“It can potentially cause a severe life-threatening stomach problem in some individuals,” Wetzel said. “We use an injection of a medication that very quickly and effectively induces vomiting.”

Once the dog has emptied its stomach, further treatment and monitoring might be necessary depending on the amount of chocolate consumed.

“Giving activated charcoal is frequently recommended as well as close monitoring for heart arrhythmias,” Wetzel said.

The charcoal helps to absorb the toxins, and because chocolate can cause heart arrhythmias, monitoring helps to recognize if an irregular rhythm is occurring and medication can be quickly used to treat it.

Of course, the best treatment is to prevent chocolate poisoning from happening in the first place, so remember to always keep chocolate out of the dog’s reach.

Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital and Asheville Veterinary Specialists is a 24-hour veterinary emergency and specialty hospital at 677 Brevard Rd. in Asheville, NC. For information or pet emergencies, call 828-665-4399 or visit www.reachvet.com.