Who amongst you wouldn’t welcome a nice box of chocolates as a gift this Christmas? Well perhaps not surprisingly, your dog would likely welcome it too. So if you don’t want to spend several hours and a nice chunk of change in the veterinary emergency hospital this Christmas, you’d best be careful that such a tasty gift doesn’t inadvertently wind up in their mouth.
The primary concern with chocolate toxicity in pets arises from a class of compounds called the methylxanthines. If you’ve ever pulled an ‘all-nighter’ in college or if you have a hard time waking up in the morning, you’re likely already acquainted with one member of the methylxanthine class that is present in chocolate - caffeine. The other one, and the one typically of more medical significance in cases of toxicity, is called theobromine.
The methylxanthines can have a wide range of effects in your pet’s body. The ones of primary importance though are hyperstimulation of both the central nervous system (brain) and the heart. For as a result of this stimulation, pets with chocolate toxicity can suffer hyperexcitability, seizures, rapid heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, and even cardiac arrest.
The amount of methylxanthines in chocolate varies significantly with the type of chocolate. The darker the chocolate and the higher the cocoa content, the greater the methylxanthine concentration and the greater the risk it poses to your pets. The amount of chocolate they consume and their weight also have a bearing on the likelihood of your pet suffering untoward effects of chocolate toxicity should they get their paws on some. Check out this cool interactive chart from National Geographic Magazine, it very nicely illustrates the rough estimates of the clinical signs you can expect in cases of chocolate ingestion based on your pet’s weight and the type and amount of chocolate they eat. Recognize though that if your pet has a preexisting heart and/or central nervous system/seizure disorder, they will be even more sensitive to the toxic effects of the methylxanthines, and therefore clinical signs will be seen at even lower quantities of ingestion.
In cases where cardiovascular and/or neurologic signs are present or develop, affected pets will need hospitalization for treatment and monitoring. Amongst other possible interventions, such treatment can include the administration of activated charcoal, intravenous fluid administration, continuous monitoring of their heart rate and rhythm (ECG), and specific treatment for any arrhythmias or seizures that might develop. Depending on how severe your pet’s signs are or become, such care is typically going to cost you anywhere from (roughly) $750-3,000+, but it can be significantly higher too. And its important to keep in mind that chocolate toxicity in pets can be fatal too, even sometimes in spite of treatment.
A secondary problem which often arises in cases of chocolate ingestion is that of ongoing diarrhea and/or vomiting resulting from the pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis) engendered by the typically high fat content of chocolate. The signs of pancreatitis can take a few days to manifest and can themselves warrant a prolonged hospital stay for your ‘furbaby’. All the more reason to be proactive in preventing your pet’s access to all things chocolate.
In the event that your pet gets into chocolate, the best thing you can do is contact your veterinarian or one of the animal-specific poison control centers (click here for contact information) for specific advice. If your pet is already showing signs of toxicity though - such as hyperexcitability, restlessness, seizures, panting, vomiting, or diarrhea - they need to be seen immediately by a veterinarian. Chocolate toxicity can prove fatal, so don’t delay or take a ‘wait and see’ approach.
Enjoy the holiday season and all the chocolate that comes your way. To keep it out of your pet’s mouth though and avoid an expensive and time-consuming trip to the emergency room…
Be aware, be prepared… be Preventive!™
Here’s a recap of The 12 Pet Hazards of Christmas so far…
Day 6: Ornaments
Day 5: Lilies
Day 4: Batteries
Day 3: Mistletoe
Day 2: Fruitcake
Day 1: Tinsel
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons)
The Preventive Vet™
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