It is the beginning of the holiday season, and with it comes an increase in the amount of candy and chocolates in the house. For most of us, these goodies are simply a risk of extra calories, to our furry friends they could be poisonous.
Most pet owners know that chocolate is potentially poisonous to their pet. While rarely fatal, dogs can get quite sick from chocolate. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that dogs are unable to metabolize. Theobromine increases heart rate, dilates blood vessels, induces diuresis and causes contraction of smooth muscle. Due to their inability to metabolize theobromine, dogs are very sensitive to theobromines effects.
The amount of chocolate that can be poisonous to your dog varies on the type of chocolate and how big your dog is. Baking chocolate and gourmet dark chocolate have a large amount of theobromine per ounce and ingesting even a small amount can be poisonous. Milk chocolate contains a much lower amount of theobromine per ounce and white chocolate has barely any. This means that for many dogs, ingesting small amounts of milk chocolate or white chocolate is rarely harmful. However, just an ounce of baker’s chocolate can poison a medium-sized, 50-pound dog
The most common signs your pup will display if they have ingested a toxic amount of chocolate is vomiting, diarrhea, panting, restlessness, a racing heart rate and excessive thirst and urination. These signs take several hours after ingestion to develop but can last for several days due to the length of time it takes for a dog to clear the theobromine from its system. Because of this, dogs that develop severe clinical signs from chocolate poisoning can require hospitalization and IV fluid therapy for several days.
If you suspect or know that your dog has ingested chocolate then contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline at 1.888.426.4435 right away. They will be able to calculate if the suspected amount and type of chocolate that was ingested by your dog could be poisonous and if you need to seek immediate veterinary care. If caught early enough, your veterinarian may be able to induce vomiting in your dog to get the majority of the ingested chocolate out your pet’s gastrointestinal system before the theobromine can be absorbed. It is never recommended for pet owners to try to induce vomiting in their pets at home.
Another hazardous ingredient found in candies and sweets is xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly found in sugar-free candies and gum. Dogs that ingest even a small amount of xylitol can experience low blood sugar, seizures and liver failure. If there is any concern that your pup has ingested xylitol then get them to a veterinarian right away.
The ingestion of any candies and sweets by your dog is likely to cause variable gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea. While it is not unheard of for pups to sneak a few unattended sweets, it is important to know what to watch for and when to seek veterinary guidance and care. The easiest way to avoid these issues is to keep your pup from getting into them in the first place. Protect your pups this holiday season. Stash the treats.
(Editor’s note: Abell is a veterinarian at the Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Clinic.)