Chocolate is especially toxic to animals and can be fatal because it contains a caffeine derivative (theobromine). Pets cannot fully metabolize chocolate, and theobromine is a compound that is a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic for pets.
When affected by an overdose of chocolate, a dog can become excited and hyperactive. It may pass large volumes of urine and will be unusually thirsty. Vomiting and diarrhea are common. Theobromine will either increase the dog’s heart rate or may cause the heart to beat irregularly. Death is quite possible, especially with exercise.
After a pet has eaten a large quantity of chocolate without an immediate reaction, many pet owners may assume their pet is unaffected. However, the signs of sickness may not be seen for several hours, with death following within 24 hours.
Cocoa powder and cooking chocolate are the most toxic forms of chocolate, containing 10 times more theobromine than milk chocolate. Just 20 ounces of milk chocolate, 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or even 2.25 ounces of baking chocolate could potentially kill a 22-pound dog. Even licking a substantial part of the chocolate icing from a cake can make a dog unwell. Although most people would not eat bitter-tasting baking chocolate, it tastes good to dogs. Semi-sweet chocolate and dark chocolate are the next most dangerous forms, with milk chocolate being the least dangerous.
If a 60-pound golden retriever eats a bag of Hershey’s kisses, the dog will probably only have a stomachache. After eating a potentially toxic dose of chocolate, dogs will typically develop diarrhea and start vomiting.
If the dog is not vomiting on its own, the vet may advise inducing vomiting immediately to keep as much theobromine as possible from entering the system. One way of doing this is by giving the dog syrup of ipecac. You may hear about using a one-to-one solution of hydrogen peroxide and water, but this treatment can cause esophageal ulcers.
Keep your veterinarian’s number close at hand, along with the number of an emergency clinic and the number for the Poison Control Center. Before you call, note the time your pet was exposed to the toxin, how much chocolate was ingested, the manufacturer’s name and any ingredients.
· ASPCA Ani-Med – 888-721-9100
· ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center – 888-426-4435
· National Animal Poison Control Center – 800-548-2423
If you need to speak to a veterinarian there, this service will be billed to a credit card. An alternate number is 900-680-0000. A veterinarian’s services on this line will cost a flat fee for the first five minutes and an additional fee for each additional minute. These charges will be billed to your phone bill.
It is important to alert your guests to the household pet rules and make sure your pets behave. Good holiday etiquette means pet owners take steps to make sure pets are mannerly and that your guests and family are alert to the need for restraint of food treats.
Helpful Safety Tips
· Treats containing the artificial sweetener xylitol are poisonous to dogs and cats. Make sure children know this and keep their candy out of a pet’s reach.
· If your pet shows signs of being poisoned, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately at 800-213-6680.
· Dispose of candy wrappers –tin foil, plastic and cellophane can pose a choking hazard.
· Continual knocking at the door and doorbell ringing can make a pet agitated and anxious. This could result in stress or could cause the pets to injure themselves if they’re in a crate or other enclosed object. Keep your pet in a quiet place on the holiday.
· Keep decorations out of the reach of pets. Electric lights, wires and cords could damage your pet’s mouth or give your pet a life threatening electrical shock.
· Keep pumpkins lit with a candle away from pets. They can easily knock them over and cause a fire.
· If you decide to dress your pet in a costume, make sure your pet is comfortable and safe. Costumes should not limit movement, breathing or hearing and should not contain anything that could easily be chewed off or caught on other objects.
By Sarah Zumhofe