With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, many couples, sweethearts, or even secret admirers will find their way down the candy aisle, looking for a big box of chocolate to express their undying love and devotion. While this might be a romantic way to win your significant other’s heart, he or she might be less inclined to romance if the family dog steals some of these delicious treats and you end up at the Animal ER!
Most pet owners are aware that “chocolate is bad for dogs”, but many don’t know the signs to look for or just how dangerous chocolate is. To help keep our furry friends safe, here are a few facts about how chocolate is problematic for dogs.
The chocolate that we crave is made from the cacao tree. During the processing to become chocolate, the cacao seeds are ground and the resulting liquid is known as chocolate liquor. This liquor will become important as we later discuss the different types of chocolate. All chocolates contain chemicals called methylxanthines. We are most familiar with these chemicals because of our own great love for caffeine, which is a typical representative of this family. Chocolate contains caffeine as well as a related compound called theobromine.
When our dogs eat chocolate and ingest the caffeine and theobromine, we might start seeing signs of nervousness or restlessness, just like when we drink our coffee too late in the day! Other symptoms can include twitching, panting, or even seizures in some severe cases. Beyond these nervous system signs, many pets will also experience vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or lack of appetite. Some dogs will develop heart arrythmias and others will end up developing a serious condition known as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) because of the high level of fat in most chocolates or because of the amount eaten.
Remember that chocolate liquor? Well, it ends up that our different types of chocolate we use in baking and for snacks have differing levels of chocolate liquor…the more chocolate liquor, the worse the symptoms can be and therefore the more dangerous for the dog.
Here’s how things break down:
- Unsweetened, or baking chocolate is the most problematic. This substance is almost straight chocolate liquor and contains about 390 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate.
- Dark chocolate contains about 35% chocolate liquor (along with vanilla, sugars, etc) and will have approximately 150 mg of theobromine per ounce.
- Milk chocolate is the least toxic, but still has at least 10% chocolate liquor and 44 mg per ounce of theobromine.
- In case you were wondering, white chocolate contains NO theobromine and is really more of an issue because of the fat content.
So, if your 50 lb Labrador Retriever tears into your sweetheart’s box of chocolates, your veterinarian will want to know what kind of chocolates and how many he ate. If the candies were dark chocolate, an upset tummy, vomiting and diarrhea can occur if he ate just 3 oz and more severe signs will occur with just 6 ounces! If it was the lovable 5 lb Toy Yorkie helping herself to a Valentine’s treat, just 1 oz of milk chocolate migh
t cause the gastrointestinal signs and 2 ounces are enough to cause her heart to race or seizures to occur.
Chocolate toxicity is considered to be an emergency! You need to contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital as soon as you are aware of the situation. You can also reach out to organizations like Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. These groups can help provide guidance about whether your pup needs to be seen and, if that is the need, they will start a case file that will help your veterinarian provide the best level of care for your beloved canine. If your pet does need to be seen, please provide your veterinarian with the type of chocolate ingested, approximate amount, and how long ago it happened.
In some cases, after inducing vomiting, your little four-legged friend might get to go home to sleep off his indiscretion. In other instances, hospitalization with IV fluids and supportive care is needed. It will take about 4 days for the effects of chocolate to work out of your pet’s system.
Finally, cats are affected just as severely as dogs when they get into chocolates…they just don’t seem to have the same sweet tooth as dogs and instances of cats with chocolate toxicity are far less common. In any case, don’t let your feline friend go sampling the candy either!
So, bottom line, if you are planning on showing your affection to someone this year, make sure that any chocolate sweets are kept safely hidden from your furry companion. Spending Valentine’s Day in the animal ER is NOT a very romantic date! Learn more about chocolates and their potential dangers by visiting our friends at VeterinaryPartner.com.