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Chocolate and Dogs do not mix!

With Easter just around the corner and plenty of chocolate around the house the risk of your dog eating chocolate is increased, particularly if your dog is very food orientated! Chris at Harris Hounds has put together a fantastic guide to what to do if you think your dog may have eaten some chocolate including signs to look out for and types of treatment.

A lot of us don't really appreciate the potential threat that chocolate can pose to a dog. The most toxic part of chocolate is the substance theobromine. Humans naturally metabolise theobromine at a fast enough rate so the toxic properties are not harmful to us but dogs metabolise it more slowly. The pods of the cocoa plant also contain caffeine.

Cocoa comes from a plant called Theobroma Cacao. Within the cocoa is the theobromine which all types of chocolate ( white, milk, dark) contain at varying levels. So it is the type and amount consumed that can mean the difference from a dog being fine to seriously ill.

The size of the dog is also a considering factor as a slither of chocolate to a big dog may not have the same effect to that of a smaller dog. A dog that already has a full stomach will also not absorb the chocolate so readily as that of a dog with an empty stomach.

Lets look at the different types of chocolate:

White chocolate contains lower levels of theobromine as it is made up of cocoa butter rather than pure cocoa. This causes it to be a lower risk. However, it does not make it safe and should not be fed to dogs.

Milk chocolate contains theobromine diluted to a degree as the cocoa is mixed with milk and other ingredients. It can still pose a threat especially if it is a good quality chocolate which would have a higher cocoa factor than a cheaper version. One square of chocolate eaten as a one-off by a middle-sized dog is unlikely to cause a problem.

Plain/ dark chocolate contains the highest levels of cocoa of all. Rather than a lot of milk chocolate dark chocolate uses cocoa butter and a cocoa content of anything up to or over 70% depending on its quality. If a small dog were to eat only a square it may still become ill.

Cocoa, of course, itself is a threat so drinking cocoa, cocoa powder for baking, cocoa butter cream and chocolate icing all fall into the 'do not give to dogs' category. In fact, cooking chocolate tends to be even more cocoa rich than dark eating chocolate. Even a spoonful of cocoa can lead to acute illness.

If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, work out how much it has eaten and call the vet straight away. Take the chocolate packaging with you if you can so the vet can see how much theobromine the dog has likely consumed.

Signs to look out for if you think your dog may have eaten chocolate include:

A dramatically increased heart rate, as the theobromine acts as a heart stimulant. It can also act as a diuretic, causing fluids to be drawn from the body cells which can lead to excess urination and dehydration. Theobromine also acts as a muscle relaxant and can cause blood vessels to dilate. All these effects combined can be serious to the dog's health.

20mg/kg of theobromine can cause the dog to get diarrhoea, hypersalivation and vomiting. A higher dose of 40mg/kg can induce a higher heart rate and blood pressure. Even higher doses than this can lead to fitting and seizures. It can take a few hours for the symptoms to develop so these few hours are critical if there is any suspicion.

If you have caught the dog fairly quickly i.e. within a couple of hours, the vet will likely induce vomiting and then give activated charcoal orally to reduce the absorption rate of the theobromine.

The vet may want to hospitalise the dog to monitor for any developing symptoms so that they can treat straight away. The dog will likely be put on intravenous fluids and have its heart and pulse rate monitored.

Once symptoms are evident it is usually too late to induce vomiting to prevent onset toxicity. Managing the symptoms with intravenous fluids, anti-arrhythmia medication and managing any seizures are a priority.

Veterinary practices today are well accustomed to seeing dogs that have eaten chocolate and so treatment will be swift giving your dog a better chance of a full recovery.

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