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Posted on 09-21-2012

Why is chocolate so dangerous for dogs? Did you know that chocolate toxicity is one of the top 20 most common poisonings in the dog? bigstock_Cocker_Puppy_Will_Beg_For_Food_5567507.jpg

Chocolate contains methylxanthine alkaloids, primarily theobromine and caffeine.  These ingredients cause vasoconstriction (tightening of blood vessels) and as a result cause a very rapid heart rate and central nervous system stimulation. You can almost think of this as a human drinking a high energy beverage or shot such as “Red Bull”.  These ingredients also can cause heart muscle contraction, lack of blood to the brain and seizures.

Initially,  gastrointestinal signs will appear in the dog: vomiting and diarrhea.  Then, nervous system stimulating signs will start such as hyperactivity, tremors and seizures.  Lastly, the heart will become affected by contracting too quickly causing rapid arrhythmias.  

On physical exam, veterinarians will find elevated body temperatures, excessive muscle rigidity, fast heart and respiratory rates and low blood pressure.  Advanced signs will lead to heart failure, weakness, coma and ultimately death.  

The most dangerous chocolate for dogs is dark baking chocolate because this contains the highest methylxanthine concentrations.  Here is a list of ingredients with the highest methylxanthine concentrations in order from the highest to the lowest concentration: cocoa beans, baking chocolate, semisweet chocolate, milk chocolate, hot chocolate and lastly, white chocolate.

If your dog has ingested any of the above ingredients, you need to call us at our Chester Springs animal hospital or animal poison control as soon as possible. First, they will determine if the quantity ingested was enough to be toxic and then will advise treatment.  

Treatment consists of inducing vomiting (if ingestion has been within the past 4 hours), administering activated charcoal to adsorb any remaining chocolate in the GI tract and a cathartic agent to promote elimination of the chocolate from the GI tract.  Other medications will be administered to control heart rate and seizures, as well.  Most dogs will be maintained on intravenous fluid therapy and kept calm.  This could take 12-36 hours depending on the dosage and the effectiveness of treatment.

Prognosis is good if treatment is initiated within 2-4 hours of ingestion but is guarded with advanced signs of heart abnormalities and seizures.

Please keep all candy and caffeine stimulating drinks and foods away from your pets at all times. However, if potential ingestion does occur, call our veterinarians immediately as the timing of treatment can save your dog’s life.

Feel free to call us at Eagle Animal Hospital with any further questions at 610-458-8789.  We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and surrounding areas.

Written by Jennifer Granite, VMD

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