By Lisa Feinstein, DVM, MPH
Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas bring chocolates and flowers that we all enjoy, but make sure you keep them away from your pets. Dogs are attracted to the sweet, milky taste of chocolate just like we are, but unlike humans, dogs take longer to break down methylxanthines like theobromines in chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine and the smaller the dog, the more relative effect the amount of chocolate will have. The signs of chocolate toxicity range from mild exposure effects like diarrhea, panting, and vomiting to severe signs like seizures and cardiac arrest.
The best thing is to prevent exposure or temptation for your dog. So keep chocolate off counter surfaces or coffee tables. Remember that even chocolate in wrappers is a potential threat; dogs have no problem eating the wrapper and chocolate all together. Also make sure you aren’t unknowingly feeding your dog any chocolate products like cereals, puddings, or baked goods.
If your dog gets into chocolate, the key is knowing how much and what type. There are great resources to calculate out your dog’s risk. Have some idea of your dog’s weight, the amount of chocolate and the type of chocolate. If you have no idea how much your dog ate since the bowl is empty, err on the side of caution and calculate for what is the most that was possibly eaten. Then go online to websites that have a dog chocolate toxicity meter, like www.petmed.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity.
If the scale or meter is calculating your dog’s risk in the danger zone, you need to bring your dog to a veterinary facility as soon as possible. If the dog just ingested the chocolate and is not yet affected neurologically, the veterinarian may attempt to make your dog vomit to get out as much as possible before it is absorbed. Then your dog will need monitoring, intravenous fluids, and other medications to address potential complications like seizures or heart rate abnormalities. The sooner you bring your dog to the veterinarian, the better the dog’s chances to recover quickly and safely.