Every holiday season, veterinarians find an increase in accidental chocolate poisoning in our canine companions. Many people are still unaware of the danger chocolate poses for their furry friend even though it is the most commonly encountered poisoning (based on an evaluation of the reason for calls to the National Animal Poison Control Center).
The naturally occurring theobromine found in chocolate, cocoa beans, cocoa bean hulls, cola, and tea, is responsible for the poisoning effect in dogs. Dogs are unable to metabolize this element quickly enough to prevent poisoning. The lethal dose of this agent is determined by weight and falls roughly into the category of 250-500 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This equates to approximately 2/3 to 1 1/3 oz bakers chocolate for every 2.2 pounds though signs of poisoning begin to appear at a much lower ingestion levels. Please see chart below for breakdown of theobromine levels by chocolate type.
The first signs of poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea, increased urination, lethargy and depression, and muscle tremors. This can progress to cardiac arrhythmias and seizures leading to death. Though most symptoms will begin to appear within two hours it can take as long as twenty four hours for symptoms to appear and up to three days for recovery. As theobromine metabolizes slowly in dogs symptoms may be slow in appearing- do NOT be fooled into thinking everything is ok. Early attention and treatment can make the difference in saving your companion’s life.
If you discover your pet has ingested chocolate DO NOT wait for symptoms to appear but phone your veterinarian- poisoning is an EMERGENCY.
If discovered within two hours of ingestion vomiting can be induced to eliminate the poison. If it has been longer than two hours your pet may need more intensive treatment including a activated charcoal treatment, iv fluids, and careful monitoring. In addition to contacting your own veterinarian you can phone the National Animal Poison Information Center at 1-888-252-7387. Though there is a fee for this consultation, they will provide you with a case number which your doctor can use to access information on how to help your pet. (It can be helpful to phone this center while on your way to your veterinarian as a resource for your doctor).
Dogs have a sweet-tooth but it is our responsibility to keep our canine companions safe. Never give chocolate as a treat and keep it well out of reach of interested muzzles. Keep unsweetened chocolate and other chocolate based baking supplies in tightly closed containers in high cupboards. Be aware of holiday sweets- box of chocolates under the tree, gold foil coins left on the floor from a game, etc and keep them safely out of paws way. A tiny bit of precaution can ensure a safer holiday for the WHOLE family.
THEOBROMINE content per ounce of chocolate (by type):
- MILK CHOCOLATE 44-66 milligrams per ounce
- UNSWEETENED BAKING CHOCOLATE 450 milligrams per ounce
- CACAO MEAL 300-900 milligrams per ounce
- CACAO BEANS 300-1200 milligrams per ounce
- HOT CHOCOLATE 13 milligrams per ounce
Essentially this means that as little as 4.5 ounces of a candy bar (two snack sized bars) or even 4 ounces of hot chocolate powder can be poisonous to a small dog! Please call your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog has eaten any chocolate.