Chocolate…we all love it. We all eat it. It’s in virtually every household in America, but it can be dangerous to our family’s pets. Unfortunately, both dogs and cats lack the ability to process some of the chemicals that are present in chocolate, mainly methylxanthines. Reactions to ingesting this can vary from minor gastrointestinal upset, a coma, or even death.
The toxicity of chocolate varies depending on the size of the pet, as well as the amount and type of chocolate that they ingest. Smaller dogs can have issues with just a tiny amount of chocolate; while bigger dogs would have to eat a much larger amount of chocolate to experience the same level of issues. When it comes to the type of chocolate, a general rule is: the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to the pet. White chocolate is the least problematic, while unsweetened baking chocolate poses the biggest threat.
The most common symptoms seen with chocolate ingestion are vomiting and diarrhea. An increased heart rate may occur, and the pet may display some hyperactivity. In severe cases, a pet may experience seizures and, although rare, even death.
Treatment for chocolate ingestion includes induced vomiting and administering activated charcoal to help prevent absorption of any remaining chocolate left in the stomach. Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization for supportive care and heart rate monitoring depending on the amount and the type of chocolate that was ingested. In some cases, your veterinarian may be concerned about intestinal blockage from the wrappers, cardboard or plastic, the pet ingested trying to get through the packaging to eat the chocolate. Radiographs of the abdomen may be suggested to analyze these cases.
If your pet ingests chocolate at home, please note both the weight of your pet, and the amount of chocolate in ounces, and call your veterinarian with this information. Estimates are okay! Based on this information, your veterinarian will be able to give you advice on the next steps for examining your pet.