With Halloween just around the corner, we here at Animal Ark Veterinary Hospital thought now is the perfect time to provide some information about what to expect when our four legged friends help themselves to some chocolate goodies. Dogs are most often affected, but chocolate is toxic to many species, including cats, rabbits, and rodents. Chocolate can cause sickness in two primary ways – 1). Due to the high fat and sugar content often present in chocolate treats and 2). Due to the chemicals theobromine and caffeine present in the chocolate itself.
Chocolate’s high fat content can cause gastrointestinal illness ranging from a temporarily upset stomach to the potentially very serious condition of pancreatitis. In fact, it is the high fat and sugar present in chocolate that most often causes problems in pets. The chemicals present in chocolate, theobromine and caffeine, can cause clinical signs ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to hyperactivity, muscle tremors, abnormal heart rhythms, and seizures. Coma and death can occur at high doses. Individual pets may be more or less sensitive, but, in general, the toxic doses of theobromine and caffeine are roughly 9mg per pound of dog for mild signs and 18mg per pound of dog for severe signs. The concentrations of the toxic chemicals theobromine and caffeine present in chocolate are variable depending on multiple factors, but, generally, the concentration of theobromine and caffeine combined in dry cocoa powder is about 800 mg/oz, unsweetened or baking chocolate is 450 mg/oz, semisweet or dark chocolate is 150 mg/oz, and milk chocolate is 64 mg/oz. White chocolate contains negligible amounts of theobromine and caffeine, but its fat content can still cause the aforementioned medical problems. Chocolate bars labeled with a percentage of cocoa or cacao is based on the percentage of unsweetened or baking chocolate present in the bar, and this number is printed on the packaging.
Here’s a hypothetical example: A dog weighs 50 pounds and he ate 2oz of a chocolate bar with 72% cacao. So, that’s 450 mg × 0.72 = 324mg of theobromine and caffeine combined per oz x 2oz = 648mg total eaten ÷ 50 pounds = 12.96 mg per pound. This is considered a toxic dose and would likely cause a temporarily upset stomach, with probable vomiting and diarrhea. In this scenario, if the chocolate was just eaten, the recommendation is to induce vomiting immediately. If that is not possible or the chocolate was consumed hours before, hospitalization and supportive care are needed. If your dog eats some chocolate, and you want to know if the amount is toxic, you’ll need your pet’s weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount of chocolate. We can help if have any questions or concerns about your pet eating chocolate, we are always here to help. Have a Happy & Safe Halloween!
-Dr. Listrani, Animal Ark
If you can’t get in touch with a Veterinary Hospital, you can always call the Pet Poison Helpline: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/chocolate/