Dogs and chocolate poisoning

November 12, 2012

“Never give your dog chocolate. It can kill your pet!”

Have you ever heard this warning? Not many people are aware that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, even if they have had dogs for a long time. Of those who have heard about it, some are skeptical and even more so if they have had a dog who did not show signs of poisoning after consuming chocolate.

Chocolate has been dubbed the food of the gods. Made from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree, this food, in all its forms, is loved by people all over the world. Although chocolate is considered a sinful food, due to its effect on the waistline, increased acne and tooth decay, people can’t help craving its mouth watering goodness. It is considered as food of love because of its aphrodisiac qualities. Eating chocolate, though, has more than just romantic benefits. Nutritional research has proven that chocolate may also have some medical benefits derived from its blood cleaning properties. Thus it may reduce high blood pressure, prevent blood clotting and normalize blood sugar levels. In addition chocolate is a “feel good” food because endorphins are released when chocolate is consumed. Resulting in a feeling of well-being.

Considering these healthful benefits, the thought that chocolate is poisonous to our beloved dogs is rather unbelievable. Unfortunately, it is true. Chocolate is one of the human foods that should not be fed to dogs. It is a common habit for many dog owners to share food with their pets. It may get a piece of a chocolate bar, a bite of chocolate cake and will happily lap up any spilled chocolate milk. Chocolate toxicity is dependent on the quantity consumed. Ingesting a small amount may not have an instant dangerous effects. But the smell and taste of chocolate is very attractive, which can cause the dog to develop a taste for it. Christmas, Valentines day, Easter and other festive holidays, where chocolate is readily available in many households, therefore may become dangerous times for dogs.

Articles overview

Why is chocolate bad for dogs?

Chocolate contains theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao plant. Because dogs metabolize theobromine slowly it can persist in the animal for up to 72 hours. In mild cases theobromine poisoning can cause nausea, diarreah and other symptoms. In severe cases it can cause seizures, heart attack and possibly death.

What is theobromine?

Theobromine is a chemical compound belonging to the methyxanthine class. It is also known as xantheose. This alkaloid is what gives the beans of the cacao plant their bitter taste.

Where is theobromine found?

Theobromine is most commonly found in cocoa beans. Small amounts can also be found in the kola nut, tea plant, guarana berry, yerba mate plant and llex guayusa.

What are the effects of chocolate on dogs

In humans the “high” derived from eating chocolate lasts between 20 and 40 minutes. In dogs, however, the effect can last much longer as they metabolize theobromine slowly, halving the theobromine concentration every 17½ hours. Thus, in severe cases, it can stay in the dogs system for up to 72 hours. The naturally occurring stimulants in chocolate affects the central nervous system, the heart and the kidneys. Once the dog’s systems is thrown into panic, it can manifest an overdose reaction, also referred to as theobromine poisoning.

How come chocolate isn’t toxic to humans?

In humans, theobroomine serves as a mild diuretic, elevating the rate of urination. It is also a mild stimulant that relaxes the bronchi muscles of the lungs. Because humans metabolize theobromine rather quickly they derive the benefits of its healthful properties instead of being negatively affected.

Varieties of chocolate and safe quantities

The amount of theobromine varies depending on the kind of chocolate. With the concentration, and thus the level of toxicity, increasing as the amount of chocolate liquor in the chocolate rises. Meaning chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa also has higher concentration of theobromine and is therefore more dangerous to dogs.

Cocoa beans

Cocoa beans are come directly from the cacao tree and have a large concentration of theobromine. 1 ounce of cocoa beans can contain between 300 and 1200 mg of theobromine.

Cocoa powder

The amount found in cocoa powder can vary from 2% to at least 10%. A dog may experience mild symptoms by ingesting just 0.012 oz per 1 lbs (0.7 g per 1 kg) of body weight. Severe symptoms can be experienced by ingestion of more than 0.035 oz per 1 lbs (2.1 g per 1 kg) of body weight.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate has a cacao content of at least 35% and often more. Some varieties like unsweetened or baking chocolate contains between 70% and 90% cocoa. Giving a theobromine concentration around 150 mg/oz., for semi-sweet chocolate, and 390 mg/oz. for baking chocolate. A dog may experience mild symptoms by ingesting 0.02 – 0.06 oz per 1 lbs (1.25 – 4 g per 1 kg) of body weight depending on the amount of cocoa solids in the chocolate. Severe symptoms can be experienced by ingestion of more than 0.06 – 0.19 oz per 1 lbs (3.7 – 12.1 g per 1 kg) of body weight.

Milk chocolate

Milk chocolate contains no less than 10% cacao liquor in the US and a minimum of 25% cacao solids in the EU. This makes for a theobromine content of about 44 mg/oz. A dog may experience mild symptoms by ingesting more than 0.13 oz per 1 lbs (8.5 g per 1 kg) of body weight. Severe symptoms can be experienced by ingestion of more than 0.41 oz per 1 lbs (25.5 g per 1 kg) of body weight.

White chocolate

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa solids. Therefore the concentration found in this type of chocolate is very low. A dog may experience mild symptoms by ingesting more than 8.2 oz per 1 lbs (511 g per 1 kg) of body weight. Severe symptoms can be experienced by ingestion of more than 24.6 oz per 1 lbs (1534 g per 1 kg) of body weight.

Cocoa shell mulch

While it is not chocolate, cocoa shell mulch is potentially dangerous to dogs. It is a byproduct of the chocolate manufacturing process, commonly sold to garden supply stores and used for landscaping purposes. It consists mainly of cacao bean shells. Leaving it with a theobromine content of around 300 to 1200 mg/oz. The aroma can be very attractive to dogs, especially to curious puppies, thus care must be taken that the household dog does not eat it.

A handy interactive chart can be found at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/10/pets/chocolate-chart-interactive

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning

Chocolate poisoning depends the type of chocolate consumed, the amount eaten, the type and body weight and the dogs sensitivity to theobromine. Symptoms normally occur between 4 and 24 hours after consumption.

Symptoms of mild poisoning include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urination
  • Rapid heart beats

Symptoms of severe poisoning include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
  • Tremors
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart attacks
  • Death

Treating chocolate poisoning in dogs

There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning but caught early on, a severely poisoned dog can be treated successfully. Signs of chocolate poisoning can be confused with symptoms of other kinds of poisoning. So it is important to make sure that is in fact what it is.

If you suspect theobromine poisoning it s advisable to call a veterinarian. Before you do so, collect as much information about the situation as you can. Some items to make note of are:

  • The type of chocolate consumed?
  • How much was consumed?
  • When was it consumed?
  • The dogs weight?
  • Has the dog vomited or had diarrhea?
  • What symptoms are the dog showing?

In the case of mild symptoms the dog can likely be treated at home. Although the help of a vet is advisable so that the correct treatment can be given.

Within the first few hours after ingesting chocolate a vet will typically instruct you to induce the dog to vomit. If it has been more than 12 hours vomiting is not recommended as it can cause damage to the dogs’ esophagus. Also vomiting should not be induced if the dog is unconscious, is having seizures, looks bloated or has a slow heart rate. To induce vomiting syrup of Ipecac or hydrogen peroxide (3%) can be used. You should not use more than 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide per 10 pounds of body weight. Mixing it with a bit of ice cream or honey will make it go down smooth. After administration you should walk the dog for a bit to help the hydrogen peroxide do its work. Vomiting should occur within 15 minutes. If it does not you need to seek veterinary advice.

After emptying the dogs stomach activated charcoal may be given. It will bind the toxins until they have been absorbed and is eliminated through defecation. Activated charcoal can be bought at health food stores.

If the dog is showing severe symptoms it must immediately be taken to a veterinarian. Once there the they will typically:

  • Induce vomiting
  • Administer activated charcoal (absorbing remaining toxins)
  • Administer fluids and intravenous drugs (keeping the pet hydrated, limiting seizures and regulating the heart rate)

Other examinations may also be done. Including, but not limited to:

  • A physical examination
  • A chemical blood profile and urine analysis
  • Blood tests to show the concentration of theobromine
  • Tests to show irregularities in the dog’s heartbeat
  • A stomach lavage

After ended treatment the dog will be closely monitored and if necessary medications are administered to control the poisoning effects. If treated in a timely and appropriate manner the can fully recover.

Related Articles

Why can’t dogs eat chocolate?
What to do if your dog eats chocolate?
Foods that are toxic to dogs
Dog First Aid: Poisoning

Sources

Wikipedia: TheobromineTheobromine PoisoningTypes of chocolate
Veterinary Center of Medicin: Animal Health Literacy Campaign
National Cocoa Shell FAQ
Healthy Pets: When and how to induce pet vomiting

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