With Halloween just around the corner most of us probably have more candy than normal in our homes. The end of October always brings a spike in the number of panicked owners calling the office to report that their dog just ate an entire bag full of Snickers or an entire bucket of Halloween candy- but at what point should you really start to worry? We all know that chocolate is bad for dogs. However, what most of us do not realize is that the severity of chocolate toxicity is directly related not only to how much chocolate a dog eats, but also what kind of chocolate. The toxic components of chocolate are theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine is a chemical compound found in the cacao plant and thus found in chocolate in varying amounts. It has been used to treat high blood pressure due to its properties as a vasodilator, diuretic and heart stimulant. Caffeine is a compound similar to theobromine and is also toxic to dogs, especially in large amounts. Other sources of caffeine and theobromine include coffee, tea, caffeine pills, baked goods with chocolate, cacao bean hulls and cacao bean mulch.
If you determine that your dog has eaten chocolate it is very important to determine how much theobromine he/she has ingested. White chocolate has negligible amounts; sweetened milk chocolate has approximately 45-60mg/oz; semisweet or dark chocolate has about 130-185mg/oz; unsweetened baking chocolate has 450mg/oz; and cocoa powder can have from 150 to 600mg/oz. Toxic levels of theobromine are based upon the weight of your dog and start at about 250mg/kg. If you have any trouble determining how many mg of theobromine your dog may have ingested, or you determine that the amount he/she ate is near the toxic level call your veterinarian immediately. Chocolate toxicity is an emergency situation with an outcome that often depends upon how quickly your dog is treated.
Symptoms of chocolate toxicity include hyperactivity, vomiting, restlessness, increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased body temperature, tremors, cardiac problems, respiratory problems, seizures, coma and death. These symptoms will typically begin 1-4 hours after ingestion, and a high level of exposure to theobromine per body weight can cause death within 6 to 24 hours.
When you bring your dog to the veterinarian to be treated for chocolate toxicity your veterinarian may initially attempt to make your dog vomit. If too much time has passed since ingestion your dog may be fed activated charcoal, a black substance that binds toxins in the stomach, preventing further absorption into the blood stream. An IV catheter is usually placed in order to promote hydration and increase excretion of the toxins from the body and correct electrolyte imbalances that may occur from vomiting. More serious symptoms such as tremors and seizures are usually controlled through IV drug administration.
Symptoms have the potential to last 12-36 hours. If treatment is started soon after ingestion and some or all of the ingested material is removed the prognosis is usually relatively good. Dogs that develop seizures and cardiac complications have a much more guarded prognosis for recovery. If you have any questions regarding chocolate toxicity please call River Road Veterinary Clinic at (802)649-3877.