Most everybody loves to have a piece of chocolate now and then, especially during Halloween and the holiday season. Some of us like giving our pets treats too, or more likely our pets treat themselves to items we may have neglected to put away. Chocolate however, is toxic to dogs and cats and can make them very sick.
Chocolate contains theobromine which is a substance that causes a release of the hormone epinephrine and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Those substances have multiple effects on the intestinal tract, cardiovascular and neurological systems.
There are varying levels of theobromine in different types of chocolate – for example:
- Milk Chocolate: 60mg/oz
- Baking chocolate: 450mg/oz
- Semi sweet chocolate: 260mg/oz
- Dry cocoa powder: 800mg/oz
- Hot chocolate: 12mg/oz
- White Chocolate 1mg/oz
Mild symptoms of toxicity start at approximately 20 mg (1kg=2.2lb), cardiotoxic effects start at 40-50 mg/kg and neurological effects generally start around 60mg/kg. Half of the dogs exposed to a level of 100-200mg/kg will die. To put it into a more practical terms, the average chocolate bar contains 2-3 oz of milk chocolate which equals 120-180mg of theobromine. That means a 6 kg (13 lb) dog will start to show mild symptoms if they were to eat one chocolate bar. A 50 lb dog would need eat 3-4 milk chocolate bars to start seeing mild symptoms, although they would only need to eat 1 oz or 1 square of baking chocolate to see those same symptoms.
Milder symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, panting, and restlessness. More severe symptoms include muscle tremors, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, cyanosis ( blue lips or gum color), seizures and could ultimately lead to cardiac arrhythmia and death. Most commonly, we see the milder symptoms. If you know your pet has eaten a large amount of within the last 2 hours then your veterinarian. There are many things your vet can do to treat the symptoms, even if they are severe.
So as much as we would love to treat our pets, the safest choice is to avoid anything that has chocolate or cocoa in the ingredients. We hope your fall holiday season is an enjoyable one!
By: Dr. Pam Pussich