Feb 13 2014

Chocolate Can Harm Your Dog!

ValentinesDo you love your dog? Does he own your heart?  Is she your favorite Valentine?

If so, you’ll join millions of pet owners who will include canine companions in their Valentine’s Day celebrations. Chocoholics, like me, especially look forward to this holiday with our sweet tooth primed for sugary candy, but we can’t ignore the downside of chocolate. So before you start the party, let’s review the dangers of chocolate poisoning in dogs.

Dogs, like people, love chocolate and may over-indulge when given the opportunity.  Eating too much chocolate candy can result in an upset stomach or an unwanted weight gain for me, but for our dogs it can be much worse. That fancy bonbon or old fashioned candy bar are dangerous for dogs.

Here’s why chocolate can do more than leave our dogs with an upset stomach or a few additional pounds. Chocolate contains an alkaloid called theobromine. Theobromine is similar to caffeine and can cause harmful side effects in dogs. People aren’t as sensitive to theobromine, so we can safely eat a reasonable amount of chocolate without health issues. In fact, theobromine is used in human medicine as a cardiovascular drug.

How much chocolate is too much?

With intestinal upsets and calories aside, chocolate is dangerous for pets. But not all chocolate poses the same danger. Because different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine,  some are less toxic than others. As candy lovers know, there are many different kinds of chocolate such as white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate (my personal favorite). When it comes to the toxicity of chocolate, remember this general rule: the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is for dogs.

Dr. Ernie Ward’s article on dog chocolate poisoning explains that a 5-pound dog can be poisoned by eating just 2 ounces of dark chocolate or 15 ounces of milk chocolate — that’s a clear indication of the higher toxicity level of dark chocolate. To put it in perspective, a regular sized Hershey bar contains 1.55 ounces of milk chocolate and 74 mg of theobromine.  The same amount of dark chocolate may contain over 180 mg of theobromine. So, if a tiny poodle mows down on his owner’s jumbo Valentine’s candy bar, he may be in for some serious trouble.

What should you do if your dog eats chocolate?

If you come home to find your candy box empty, take a quick glance at your dog and your house. Is your pet panting or trembling?  Do you see evidence of vomiting or diarrhea? Is the stool tarry colored or does it contain bright red blood? Were there candy wrapper remnants in the dog’s vomit or on the floor? Can you estimate how much chocolate your pup ate?

After a quick assessment of the situation, call your veterinarian. It’s important to minimize the absorption of theobromine so time is of the essence. With prompt treatment, your dog can survive chocolate poisoning. For dogs that recently ate chocolate, veterinarians often advise pet owners to induce vomiting of undigested chocolate. Home remedies to induce vomiting include hydrogen peroxide or table salt given orally. Although these products are readily available in most households, contact your pet’s doctor before giving either of them.

If your dog is showing symptoms of toxicosis (poisoning), your veterinarian may ask you to bring him to the hospital so that she can induce vomiting while closely monitoring your dog’s condition. Either way, if the dog rids his stomach of the chocolate before it’s absorbed, toxicity may be avoided.

If it’s too late to induce vomiting, your veterinarian may propose a different treatment strategy. He may administer medications that block the absorption of toxins like theobromine from the stomach.  Plus, he may utilize other medications that can decrease irritation of the gastro-intestinal tract to minimize the amount of resulting diarrhea.

Some dogs may continue to vomit even after the chocolate is no longer in the stomach. These poor pups require treatment to stop the vomiting.  Excessive vomiting or diarrhea related to chocolate ingestion may result in dehydration. Dehydrated dogs need IV fluid therapy to regain a proper level of hydration and may need to be hospitalized for a while.  So even if you induce vomiting at home, it should stop fairly quickly. If your dog continues to throw up, go to the emergency hospital.

The Perils of Chocolate

As with all things, moderation is key. The trouble is, our dogs aren’t likely to stop at just a couple pieces of candy (in fact, neither are we!), so the best way to avoid chocolate toxicosis is to keep the Valentine’s candy out of their reach.

Since our pups deserve a treat on Valentine’s Day and since we can’t give them chocolate, how about finding a safe gift to show them that we love them?  Do you have an idea for a safe Valentine treat for dogs? Please share.  Scout is expecting something really special this year!

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