Chocolate poisoning is common in dogs around certain holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter—when lots of candy is available in people's houses. Any dog with a sweet tooth is at risk if chocolate is within reach, but puppies ingest chocolate more often because of their curious nature. Chocolate is dangerous for dogs because it can damage their nervous and cardiovascular systems. Learn the signs of chocolate poisoning in dogs and what to do about it.
What Is Chocolate Poisoning?
Chocolate poisoning happens when a dog ingests chocolate candy or desserts that contain cocoa. Chocolate is made from the roasted seeds of cocoa plants and contains theobromine, a chemical related to caffeine. Dogs can't metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans; therefore, this compound is toxic to them. Consuming too much chocolate affects a dog's nervous and cardiovascular systems, causing hyperactive behavior and high heart rate. Without proper veterinary treatment, an overdose of chocolate can be fatal.
Symptoms of Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
One or two chocolate candies probably won't harm a dog unless the dog is very small or sensitive to the chemical theobromine. Symptoms of chocolate ingestion range from mildly troublesome to urgent medical emergencies.
A dog that ingests chocolate may pass large amounts of urine due to the diuretic effect of theobromine, which also relaxes bladder control. In addition, pups poisoned with chocolate will drool, act thirsty, vomit, and/or have bouts of diarrhea. Even if a dog doesn't ingest life-threatening quantities of chocolate, diarrhea and vomiting can leave you with potty accidents to clean up. In certain cases, when a dog or puppy eats copious amounts of chocolate, serious side effects may appear that indicate problems with the neurological or cardiovascular system. Tremors, rapid heart rate, or coma are medical emergencies that require immediate attention.
Causes of Chocolate Poisoning
Chocolate poisoning occurs when a dog consumes chocolate. Dark or baker's chocolate contains far more theobromine than milk chocolate and is therefore far more dangerous; the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is. White chocolate is not toxic to dogs because, despite its name, it does not contain any cocoa. A good rule of thumb: For a 50-pound dog, an ounce of baker's chocolate is toxic, while nine ounces of milk chocolate is toxic. Understanding this rule means that a medium-sized dog can consume small pieces of milk chocolate and not get sick; it's all about the amount of cocoa and the size of the dog.
Diagnosing Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs
If you know that your dog ingested chocolate, check the source (bag, bowl, etc.) to try and determine how much chocolate was eaten. Even if your dog isn't exhibiting signs of illness, call your vet with the approximate amount of chocolate consumed to determine if the dog needs to be examined. Watch for symptoms of poisoning, particularly those that are severe, and be ready to make an emergency trip to the vet if needed.
If your dog or puppy has consumed a lot of chocolate, a prompt visit to the vet is necessary. There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning. Affected dogs are offered supportive treatment from the veterinarian to prevent further absorption of the poison and hasten elimination, along with symptomatic treatment.
If the animal has just been observed eating chocolate, the veterinarian may choose to induce vomiting. If time has passed since the ingestion, the vet might administer activated charcoal to help prevent additional absorption of the theobromine into the puppy's circulatory system. Signs of shock are addressed with fluid therapy. Heart rate irregularities, vomiting, and diarrhea are each specifically treated with appropriate medications.
Prognosis for Dogs with Chocolate Poisoning
The prognosis for a dog with chocolate poisoning depends on the amount of chocolate ingested and the individual dog's reaction to it. Some dogs will show no signs of toxicity, while others end up hospitalized in critical care. Seeking immediate veterinary input is extremely important since a dog can react severely and require intensive supportive care to recover. In extreme cases of untreated chocolate ingestion, dogs can die.
How to Prevent Chocolate Poisoning
The best way to deal with chocolate toxicity is to prevent the problem from happening. Most dogs and puppies have a sweet tooth, so keep chocolate out of reach and be especially vigilant around the holidays. In addition, you can help to prevent chocolate poisoning with some common training methods.
- Crate train your dog so that it doesn't have access to treats left out overnight.
- Teach your dog to "leave it" or "drop it" so that you can control your pet's actions if you see it about to snack on chocolate.
- Talk with everyone in the house about maintaining a chocolate-free zone to keep pets healthy.
- Educate children to never give chocolate to dogs as a treat.
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