Most dog owners are aware that chocolate can be dangerous for dogs, but chocolate poisoning still remains a problem. In fact, a study in the UK showed that a quarter of all dogs presenting with intoxication have ingested chocolate. Understanding why chocolate is bad for dogs and how serious chocolate intoxication can be can help dog owners protect their pets. This saves their dogs from spending time sick and can also prevent a costly vet bill.
The main ingredient in chocolate that causes problems in dogs is theobromine. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, or Theobroma cacao, and the finished product contains 1-9 milligrams of theobromine. Humans can metabolize this compound easily, but dogs digest it slowly, so it can build up in their bodies. Too much theobromine causes over stimulation of the dog's central nervous and cardiovascular systems, which can lead to health problems or even death in the most serious cases.
Another ingredient in chocolate is caffeine. A dog's body reacts to caffeine much the same way that human bodies do, but as dogs are smaller, the effects are amplified. Small amounts of caffeine can cause big reactions in dogs, including overstimulation, a racing heart, and restlessness. The amounts of caffeine in chocolate are relatively small, and the theobromine is more concerning to their health. However, as caffeine is absorbed quicker, symptoms of caffeine consumption may appear first.
The amount of chocolate a dog can consume without serious consequences depends on their size. Toxicity can start at around 10mg per pound of body weight. Regular milk chocolate contains around 100mg of theobromine in 2.5 ounces or three squares. In a small dog weighing pounds, this is enough to cause toxicity, though it may only cause minor discomfort to a larger breed. There are chocolate toxicity calculators available on the internet, but it is safest to check with a vet if unsure.
Different types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine, so in an emergency, it is important to know what type of chocolate was ingested. On the lowest end of the scale is white chocolate, which does not contain cocoa solids. This means there is only trace amounts of theobromine. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate have very high amounts of theobromine, although the highest concentration is found in cocoa powder. Less than 0.2 ounces of cocoa powder can be dangerous for a 10-pound dog.
If there are no empty wrappers to show a dog ate chocolate, owners should look for physical symptoms of restlessness and hyperactivity, caused by the small amounts of caffeine. Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle tremors or shaking. Some dogs experience high body temperature and will pant or seek out cool places. At the most serious levels, dogs may have muscle stiffness or seizures and appear uncoordinated. Owners should take their dog to a vet as soon as possible if their pet exhibits any of these symptoms.
Vets will first induce vomiting, and if this occurs early enough, the dog may not have absorbed very much theobromine. They may also give the dog activated charcoal to help stop absorption. Dogs who have had larger levels of chocolate may need intravenous fluids to help flush the toxin from their bodies, and in the most serious cases, other treatments may be recommended.
Chocolate tastes as good for dogs as it does for humans, so dogs continue to eat it, even when it makes them sick. Chocolate is also highly toxic to cats, but as they cannot taste sweet things, they are less likely to eat any. Dogs love the sweet taste, and their keen sense of smell lets them hunt the treat out wherever it hides. Couple this with their love of enjoying everything their humans do and chocolate becomes irresistible.
Because dogs find it easy to sniff out chocolate treats, it is important to hide it well. Owners should not underestimate their dog's motivation; many dogs climb on counters to get to chocolate, so it is best to keep any in the fridge or behind cupboard doors. More dogs suffer from chocolate poisoning around Christmas and Easter as there is chocolate around, and owners get distracted. Be careful of chocolate gifts under the tree as dogs may open them and eat the present well before Christmas morning.
There are plenty of treats dogs can have instead of chocolate. Dog chocolates, which are actually carob, can be bought in most supermarkets and are especially tasty when coupled with peanut butter. Doggy bakeries offer sweet treats specially formulated to be healthy for pets. Dog owners who are keen bakers can also find a multitude of recipes for cakes, cookies, and other treats they can make to spoil their furry friends.
Vets recommend limiting the number of human food dogs have, and there are many foods humans can digest that are dangerous to dogs. Other foods to look out for include raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, walnuts, avocado, and alcohol. Anything that contains caffeine can also cause problems for dogs, so owners should ensure they do not take a sip of coffee or soda. Dog owners should always check with a vet if their dog eats something unusual.
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