Chocolate Toxicity

With the holidays around the corner many of us are more likely to indulge in one of our favorite sweet treats, Chocolate!  However, having more chocolate around the house can result in our pets getting into our chocolate stash and result in a trip to the veterinarian.

Why is Chocolate Toxic to pets?

The compounds in chocolate that are toxic to dogs are called methylxanthines, specifically theobromine and caffeine.  Although  

Theobromine and caffeine are present in the cacao seeds that are used to make chocolate.  Depending on the type of chocolate that is made (white, chocolate, dark, etc.) different amounts of these toxic components are present.  For example, baking chocolate contains the largest amount of these toxic compounds followed by dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.  

What signs may be seen with chocolate toxicity?

Depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested signs may range from gastrointestinal signs to hyperactivity and even seizures and death in the most severe cases.  

Signs seen may include:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Tremors 
  • Seizures 
  • Racing heart rhythm progressing to abnormal rhythms 
  • Death in severe cases
The majority of cases of chocolate ingestion seen in veterinary clinics result in gastrointestinal upset and most dogs recover within a day when presented for treatment in a timely manner.
Due to the fat content of chocolate some dogs may also develop a condition called pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas caused by early release of digestive enzymes.  Pancreatitis is a painful condition that can result in vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhea. 
What should I do if my pet ingests chocolate?
If you know or suspect your pet has ingested chocolate call your veterinarian right away and try to get an idea of what type and how much chocolate was eaten.  You veterinarian will be able to calculate if the amount ingested by your pet was enough to be toxic and warrant a trip in to the clinic for further treatment.
What type of treatment can be done for chocolate ingestion/chocolate toxicity?
The type of treatment will depend on how recently the chocolate was eaten, how much and what (if any) signs the pet is currently showing.
For most cases that are not too severe the pet will be induced to vomit in a safe manner by injecting a small amount of a medication.  This allows some of the chocolate to be removed immediately.  Another treatment that may be done includes the feeding of a compound called Toxiban that helps to bind up the toxic compounds in the stomach and intestines so it can no longer be absorbed and contribute to harmful effects.  
Depending on your veterinarians assessment of the of the situation they may recommend your pet be placed on intravenous fluids and monitored for a day or more.  If the pets condition is serious enough they may even need to be transferred to an ER facility for overnight monitoring and continued treatment.     
Luckily prevention is easy by keeping tasty treats our the reach of our four-legged friends.  But accidents do happen and if find your pet has eaten chocolate call your veterinarian right away.  Treatment is most successful and pets recover most quickly when they are brought in for treatment within an hour or two of ingestion.