With Easter arriving this month, your pet may get into the treats left behind by the Easter Bunny. With their sensitive noses, dogs can easily sniff out chocolate goodies from the best hiding spots! This can be dangerous to dogs, especially if they go on their own Easter Egg hunt before the children get out of bed. The foil wrappers and plastic wrappers can cause intestinal irritation, but of more concern is the potential for illness from the chocolate.
Chocolate is toxic because it contains the alkaloid theobromine. Theobromine is similar to caffeine and is used medicinally as a diuretic, heart stimulant, and a smooth muscle relaxant. Toxic doses of theobromine are reported to be about 100 mg/kg (approximately 50 mg/lb) and the fatal dose is around 200 mg/kg (approximately 100 mg/lb). However, according to the ASPCA poison control, problems can be seen with as little as 20mg/kg (approximately 10mg/lb).
Since various types of chocolate contain different levels of theobromine, it is necessary to determine the type of chocolate in order to determine what amount will cause problems. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain the highest levels of theobromine, averaging between 15-20 mg/gm (425-575 mg/oz), while the milk chocolate found in chocolate bars and most Easter treats contains about 1.5 mg/gm (43mg/oz). So, in round numbers, a healthy 5 kg (11 pound) dog could show mild illness after eating about 57 gm (2 ounces) of milk chocolate; the toxic dose of milk chocolate for the same dog would be about 350 gm (12 ounces); however, just 28.4 gm (1 ounce) of dark or baking chocolate could be toxic to the same dog. If a healthy dog weighs 20-22 kg (45-50 pounds), it could show symptoms of mild toxicity after eating 280 gm (10 ounces) of milk chocolate or 28 grams (1oz) of dark chocolate; for a dog this size to be poisoned by chocolate, it would have to eat about 1300 gm (3 lbs) milk chocolate or 120 gm (4oz) of baker’s chocolate. To put it into perspective, a small bar of premium dark chocolate would be fatal to a healthy toy poodle. The toxic dose of chocolate is lower for a pet that is old or has pre-existing health problems.
The pet that eats less than the toxic dose of chocolate can still become ill, depending on how many treats he ate. The most common signs of chocolate overdose are vomiting and/or diarrhea, but may also include restlessness, panting, an elevated heart rate, excessive urination, and behavioural or neurologic abnormalities. Symptoms may take up to twelve hours to develop, and it usually takes about twenty-four hours for the theobromine to be eliminated after absorption. Any time that a dog has eaten a large amount of fat and/or sugar, it also runs the risk of developing pancreatitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas.
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as you suspect that your dog has eaten chocolate. Treatment is directed at preventing further absorption and speeding the elimination of the drug from the body. The sooner the theobromine is removed from the body, the better your dog’s prognosis.
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