Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trick or Treat! - Biscuits Only Please

Most people already know that chocolate is toxic to dogs, however with Halloween just around the corner, the temptation for our canine friends to nose through the candy bowls and trick or treat bags may be too much to resist. Here are a few important things to understand about chocolate and your dog.

Chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains an alkaloid called theobromine. This alkaloid is similar to caffeine and can act as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and smooth muscle relaxant. While chocolate ingestion is rarely fatal, it can cause significant illness due to the theobromine. The amount of toxic theobromine in chocolate depends on the type of chocolate. Cooking or Baking chocolate along with high quality dark chocolate contain much more theobromine per gram versus regular milk chocolate.

For example, a small dog weighing five pounds would only have to eat 2 ounces of baking chocolate to become ill, whereas a big dog weighing fifty pounds would have to eat 20 ounces. For milk chocolate, a five pound dog would need to eat fifteen ounces and a fifty pound dog would have to eat 40 ounces.

Even if you think your dog only ate a small amount of chocolate it's still very important to have them seen by a veterinarian right away. The sooner the doctor sees your dog, the sooner they can induce vomiting and the less likely your dog is to feel any toxic effects. Clinical signs from chocolate toxicity can take up to 12 hours to develop, so even if your dog seems fine a few hours later, he or she may not be out of the woods yet. Once the theobromine is absorbed into the body it can remain for up to 24 hours causing damage. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and urination, panting or restlessness, muscle spasms and occasionally seizures. In older dogs with a preexisting heart condition, consuming large amounts of chocolate can result in cardiac arrest.

Treatment for chocolate toxicity is based on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. If treated early, your veterinarian can induce vomiting and that may be all that is necessary. Often they will administer activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids may also be given to help dilute and promote excretion of the theobromine. All dogs who have ingested chocolate should be closely monitored for the first 24 hours for any signs of an irregular heart rhythm.

Households with children may find it especially challenging to keep their dogs from getting into the Halloween candy. If you suspect your dog has ingested chocolate, no matter what amount, you should always have him or her seen right away. Inducing vomiting early on is far easier on you and your dog than having to deal with the complications that may occur from chocolate toxicity. Halloween should be a safe and fun time for everyone, and the staff here at VACC would like to wish you all a very Happy Halloween.