With the arrival of Halloween, most households around America will have bountiful supplies of chocolate. Unfortunately, given the opportunity, many of our furry companions will indulge themselves on chocolate. Although dogs are more likely to ingest chocolate, it can also happen to cats. To prepare you for if or when this may happen, lets cover the basics of chocolate toxicity.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

Chocolate toxicity is a double whammy for our doggy friends.  The two compounds that are present in chocolate that will result in problems are theobromine and caffeine. These two compounds have the potential to disrupt many systems throughout the body, but the most serious are the heart and brain.  In general, the darker the chocolate the more dangerous it is. Smaller dogs are also at more risk for significant toxicity since it will take less chocolate to result in problems. After a pet has ingested chocolate it can 6-12 hours before signs appear.  If the dog ingested chocolate within a wrapper it can take even longer for signs to occur.

Signs of Chocolate Toxicity

Things to look for when you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate include an increase in thirst and/or urination, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness or hyperactivity, racing heart, tremors, increased body temperature, increased respiratory rate, seizures, and coma.  Due to the high-fat nature of many of the chocolate products that our pets may ingest, they could also be at risk of pancreatitis which would usually occur 24-48 hours after the ingestion. Pancreatitis signs include decreased appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

What To Do

If you notice signs of toxicity or are concerned, call a veterinarian.  Your veterinarian can often advise you on the best course of action. If you don’t have access to your veterinarian, an emergency vet will also be able to assist.  Additionally, the ASPCA also has a pet poison helpline (fee’s apply) that can help you determine if your dog has ingested a toxic dose or not.  If possible have the product that they ingested in front of you when you call (or take it with you to the veterinarian) because the more information we have about what type and how much chocolate they ate the easier it will be for us to predict the severity of toxicity. Even if your pet isn’t showing signs of chocolate toxicity the sooner they are seen by a veterinarian the better.

Depending on the timing a veterinarian can give your dog a medication to induce vomiting, and the more chocolate they throw up the better. Multiple doses of charcoal will also likely be given after they have vomited to help bind the theobromine and caffeine and eliminate it from the body.  If your dog has ingested a significant amount of chocolate they will likely need to be hospitalized for supportive care and medications that will help control the toxicity signs.  Most dogs, if they receive quick and appropriate care, will survive the toxicity.

Contact Information

Chocolate toxicity in dogs occurs on a somewhat frequent basis. If you think your dog may have chocolate toxicity, please call us immediately if it occurs during our normal business hours, or contact an emergency vet during off-hours. Contact Information: Sunshine Animal Hospital

Written by Dr. Kristy Kreutzer
Sunshine Animal Hospital