by: Carolyn Schweitzer
Chocolate — Who can Resist it?
Your dogs health depends on it! (resisting, that is). We humans get to indulge because most of us know when to stop. But your dog won’t quit after just a few. Give her a chance and she’ll down the whole box of Godivas in one gulp. So on Valentine’s Day, you’re actually being kind to your best buddy if you eat all the chocolates yourself!Why is chocolate harmful to a dogs health?Chocolate, as you know, is made with cocoa beans. And cocoa beans contain methylxanthine alkaloids in the form of theobromine and caffeinea, which are toxic to dogs. Chocolate can also contain high amounts of fat which can put your dogs health in jeopardy as well.
How Much is Too Much?
Though it’s certain that dogs and chocolate don’t mix, different dogs react differently to the methylxanthines. And reactions can vary according to the age, size and overall health of the dog. The smaller the dog the smaller the dose needed to produce an effect. And of course, if your dog’s health is already weakened by other medical conditions, he’s more susceptible. The same holds for older dogs.. Theobromine is present in differing amounts in different kinds of chocolate:
- White chocolate 1mg/oz
- Hot chocolate 12 mg /oz
- Milk chocolate 44-66 mg/oz
- Semi-sweet chocolate 260 mg/oz
- Dark chocolate 450 mg/oz (wow!)
- Baking/bitter chocolate or cocoa powder varies as much as 150-600 mg/oz.
How much chocolate can a dog eat and survive?
That depends in part on her weight.
Under 200 mg theobromine per kg body weight (91mg per lb) has not been observed to be fatal. A potentially lethal dose in a 16 pound. dog is only one pound of milk chocolate. Only two ounces of baking chocolate can cause serious problems in a 10-pound dog. People stop eating chocolate before getting to toxic levels, but dogs don’t!
What are the warning signs of a problem?
Any dog who’s eaten chocolate should be watched closely for symptoms, particularly smaller dogs, “seniors”, and dogs with health problems. Symptoms may range from from vomiting and diarrhea to panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death in severe cases.
While white chocolate may not be as likely to cause a methylxanthine poisoning, the high fat content of lighter chocolates could still lead to vomiting and diarrhea, and possibly the development of life-threatening pancreatitis. Too much fatty food will also affect a dogs health in the same way it does ours, by packing on the pounds!
What can be done once chocolate is ingested?
Make note of the type of chocolate ingested and how much was eaten, if possible.
Theobromine will stay in the bloodstream between 14 and 20 hours. Within two hours of ingestion, try inducing vomiting unless your dog is over stimulated, comatose, or has lost the gag reflex.
If your dog has eaten a considerable amount of chocolate, or displays any of the above symptoms, take her to the vet right away. If her symptoms are minor, make her eat activated charcoal. The unabsorbed theobromine binds to it and be passed out of the system. (In a pinch, burnt – as in thoroughly blackened – toast will do.)
Are there any other products I should worry about?
Yes — Cocoa Mulch!!
No, it’s not chocolate, but the two products have something in common. They’re both derived from the cocoa bean, and they’re both hazardous to your dogs health.
Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production and are popular as mulch for landscaping. Homeowners like the attractive color and scent, and the fact that the mulch breaks down into an organic fertilizer.
Some dogs are attracted to cocoa mulch, and will eat it in varying quantities. The coca bean shells can contain from 0.2% to 3% theobromine (the toxin ) as compaired to 1-4% in unprocessed beans.
Eating cocoa mulch has four possible outcomes. The most common is vomiting, in 50% of cases. Next most common, in 33% of cases, is tremors (shaking). And 17% end up with tachycardia (rapid heart rate), hyperactivity or diarrhea. The fourth outcome is no effect on the dogs health at all, and this is the result in 33% of cases.
Although only 16 cases were reported in approximately one year (the duration of the study), reports are on the increase. California accounts for about 2/3 of cases reported so far. Fortunately, there have been no reported fatalities, and getting your friend to the vet promptly will assure a happy outcome.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Thanks to a more educated public, fewer fatalities from foods like chocolate are being reported these days.
Still, it pays to keep up with what’s currently known about various foods and their effects on a dogs health and well being. Grapes and cocoa mulch, for example, were discovered only recently to have harmful effects.
If your dogs health is important to you (and I’m betting it is!), then keep him away from the chocolates on Valentine’s Day and other holidays as well. And watch out year round for products made from the cocoa bean.
In an emergency, call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.