Chocolate Toxicity

posted: by: Alison Skala DVM Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

OOO… a piece of candy….


            It’s October, almost Halloween, and for most of us that means large amounts of candy in our houses.  We’re either hiding the kid’s (or our stash) or handing it out to trick or treaters.  However, our curious pets may find and eat our candy.  Chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats- though we see the toxicity more often in dogs since they are the less discriminate eaters.

            The toxic ingredient in chocolate is theobromine, which is a methylxanthine.  Methylxanthines are also found in caffeinated beverages, stimulant drugs (i.e., caffeine, energy pills or drinks) and cocoa hull mulch.  Clinical signs can include vomiting, diarrhea, drinking and urinating more than normal, increased heart rate, heart arrhythmias, hyper excitability, hyper reactivity, seizures and in severe toxicities, death.  Clinical signs are dose dependent, which means that signs become worse or more serious depending of the amount your pet ingests and the type of chocolate ingested.  Animals that have preexisting conditions, such as liver or heart disease, can have more severe clinical signs. 

            Initially, we see restlessness, hyper excitability, more urinations than normal and vomiting.  These signs can appear 1-2 hours after ingestion.  Clinical signs worsen as intoxication progresses and can last 12-72 hours depending on the dose.  If the pet is presented early and decontaminated (i.e., the pet is made to vomit the chocolate), the prognosis is good.  Some products are more toxic than others.  Dark chocolate, cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa hull mulch can be much more toxic than milk chocolate or white chocolate, depending on how much is ingested. 

            Treatment includes making the pet vomit if they ate the chocolate or caffeinated product within the last 2-6 hours.  Activated charcoal is given to help prevent absorption of the toxins and intravenous fluids and drugs are given as needed to control clinical signs.  Since early decontamination is so important, you should keep hydrogen peroxide in your pet first aid kit in case you need to make your pet vomit.  The phone number to your veterinarian (Green Meadows Veterinary Hospital 614-846-9644) and your local emergency veterinarian (MedVet 614-846-5800 or OSU 614-292-3551) should be easy to locate in your house in case you need to discuss a possible toxicity.  When you call, it is helpful if you know approximately when your pet ingested the chocolate, what kind of chocolate was ingested, about how much was ingested and approximately how much your pet weighs. 

            Remember to keep your chocolate and caffeinated products in an area inaccessible to your pet.  Have a happy and safe Halloween!