Chocolates & Cocoa products are toxic to both cats and dogs. While the toxic effects depend on many factors, both your pet’s nervous system and heart are affected at some level with just one bite. All chocolates contain a substance known as methylxanthine which includes “caffeine” and “theobromine” which are quickly absorbed and metabolized from the GI tract into your pets’ system. In as little as 6-12 hours of ingestion, chocolate toxicosis can occur.
Caffeine effects the central nervous system (CNS)… the brain, spinal cord, and nerves coming off of the brain and spinal cord. The same effects seen in humans but to a greater degree in animals. Since dogs are much smaller than humans, less caffeine has a greater affect and promotes hypersensitivity. The symptoms of hypersensitivity in dogs include quick reactions to sudden noises, and the “jitters” which are the same effects you would see in a human that consumed a full pot of coffee on an empty stomach).
More hazardous than caffeine is the chemical Theobromide which is 3–10 times that of caffeine. Theobromide is a stimulant that causes the heart to beat faster than normal until any pattern to the beat is lost. Eventually, the heart may seize in a contracted phase and stop beating altogether.
Theobromide is found in all chocolates –milk, dark, semi, baker’s and white. The darker the chocolate, the greater the danger. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine. It takes about 1 oz. of baking chocolate to prove fatal to a 10 lb dog. On the other hand, milk chocolate which contains a lower concentration of theobromide can take up to 11 oz. to prove lethal for a 10 lb dog. Regardless, no matter how small the amount consumed, don’t wait to see any symptoms which can take 6-12 hours to show up. Contact your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435.
Signs & Symptoms
The signs of chocolate poisoning can take 6-12 hours to develop after ingestion. The severity of symptoms is dependent on the amount of chocolate and type of chocolate ingested combined with your pet’s overall health/pre-existing conditions. You should seek immediate help by contacting your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 if you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate. The sooner theobromide is cleared from your pet’s system, the better the prognosis. Symptoms include:
Increased heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm
Increased body temperature
High blood pressure
Immediate Care & Treatment
In addition to laboratory tests, treatment includes aggressive decontamination with induced vomiting to flush out and prevent further absorption of the toxin. Activated charcoal may be administered to help prevent further absorption neutralizing the toxins. A sedative administered and aggressive IV fluid therapy initiated to help with excretion. Additional medications and monitoring may be required for heart, blood pressure, stomach upset, diarrhea, seizures, and high risk patients. The overall response to therapy is excellent for ingestion of amounts treated timely. Where advanced signs of poisoning are evident (seizures, collapse, coma) the prognosis is poor.
Sometimes the simple solution is the best. Do not give your dog or cat chocolate and store all chocolate products out of reach of pets. Whether bagged, individually wrapped, or boxed, discard all packaging or when done or keep out of reach of your pets. The wrapping from chocolates can contain chocolate residue as well as become a choking or blockage hazard for dogs who are indiscriminate eaters.