Chocolate Toxicity in Pets

By October 28, 2015 Client Education

oakleavesWell, hello again. It’s nice to see you. How is your autumn coming along? I love to sit on my window ledge and watch the leaves blow around. There is an oak tree just outside the window. During the night the shadows of the bare branches move around on the walls of my room. I love to see what shapes they make. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is just a tree branch, and not really a menacing goblin. Or rocking chair! My imagination can really run wild here in the clinic at night. Luckily my ladies come in bright and early each morning and make sure I am okay.

Scary branches and shadows aside (and really, who doesn’t love a good scare once in awhile?), I think this is one of my favorite times of year. I especially love watching children dress up in wonderfully imaginative costumes. Then comes Thanksgiving with the gathering of family and friends and food. And the winter holidays, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. Decorations and more food and friends and family. Ahhh, I can see it now.

But you know, I overheard the gals here at Bear Creek talking and it got me to thinking. As much as I love all that food and all those goodies, from Halloween candy to Thanksgiving turkey to all the beautiful decorations and packages “tied up with string”, I guess it can be almost as scary for us pets as my old oak tree branches.

Did you know that chocolate can be toxic? I guess even a little bit of a good thing can be too much. I heard Dr. Deb say that while chocolate ingestion is not always fatal, it can make us quite sick. Chocolate is a delicious combination of cocoa butter and cocoa beans. It contains theobromine and caffeine, which are classified as methylxanthines (meth-el-zan-theenz). Now, I looked methylxanthines up on that wiki site, the one that gives lots of answers? Basically what I learned was that methylxanthines can make your heart beat faster and harder, and can cause it to lose its regular rhythm. In high doses it can even lead to convulsions that can’t be stopped by anticonvulsant drugs. Now that’s scary!chocolate

Something else I learned is that chocolate comes in lots of varieties and, depending on the kind of chocolate it is, there may be more or less of the theobromine and caffeine in it. Basically, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is, the more methylxanthines it contains. Baking and gourmet chocolate are highly concentrated and contain 130-450 mg of theobromine per ounce and 33-47 mg of caffeine per ounce. Common milk chocolate contains about 44-59 mg of theobromine per ounce and around 6-10 mg of caffeine per ounce. White chocolate is the most benign with only about a quarter of a milligram of theobromine per ounce, and trace amounts of caffeine.

To put this in perspective, a medium-sized dog weighing about 50 pounds would only need to eat about an ounce of baker’s chocolate or 9 ounces of milk chocolate to potentially show signs of chocolate toxicity. For the average cat, weighing in at around 11 pounds, the toxic amount of baker’s chocolate is ¼ to ½ ounce (one to two squares). An eight-week old kitten though is much more susceptible to the effects and could be poisoned by only a single ounce of milk chocolate.

Signs to watch for in cats include hyperexcitability, nervousness, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, the only sign could be sudden death. In dogs, signs include those seen in cats, as well as drooling. (Cats rule, dogs drool, right?!) At doses over 40 mg/kg (or about 20 mg/pound) cardiac signs including a racing heart rate, increased blood pressure or even arrhythmias can be seen. Neurologic signs like tremors or seizures can be seen at 60 mg/kg (30 mg/lb.) and death can occur at around 200 mg/kg (100 mg/lb.). In older pets, or those with preexisting heart conditions, death may occur more quickly.

Well, that certainly put a damper on my holiday spirit! And naturally, the next question that popped into my head was “What can be done about this chocolate ingestion?”, in the event that one of my canine or feline pals would be foolish enough to eat it in the first place. The first thing to be done is to ask your human to call your family veterinarian. If it happens to be on a holiday or in the evening, then have your human call or take you to the nearest emergency veterinarian. You can also have them contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 or by visiting them online at

When you arrive at your veterinarian, he or she will have lots of questions for your human, like how much and what kind of chocolate did you eat, and how long ago was it. The earlier you let your human know you have eaten chocolate, the better it will be for all concerned. Usually the veterinarian will give you a delightful cocktail of medications to help you get rid of the chocolate. Believe me, it tastes much better on the way down than on the way up. The doctor may also give you something called activated charcoal, which will help to grab and bind all the toxins to block their absorption by the body. If you are still feeling spunky, you may want to share the charcoal with the technician that is giving it to you. I have found that shaking my head works well, as does rubbing my head in their lap. You may get more doses of activated charcoal over the next 24 hours to minimize the effects of the theobromine. It always more fun to share!

To be on the safe side, veterinarians will often encourage your human to allow them to hospitalize you for a day or so, to give you intravenous fluids to help your body get rid of the theobromine. That way they can keep you under close observation so they can watch for cardiac or neurologic signs. Sometimes they will also add in other medications to help your heart slow down and regain its regular rhythm. With good medical care, and a quick response from your human, the chance of you having lasting effects from your chocolate faux paw is minimal.

carob biscuitA safe and non-toxic alternative, if your human wants to give you a special treat, would be carob biscuits or cookies. Or biscuits and cookies dipped or frosted with carob. Or peanut butter. Or chicken. Or salmon. Or…hmmm, is it lunchtime yet? Right, sorry. I love all the special treats my ladies give me. Back to the topic at hand.

With the holidays just around the corner, it is very important for you to keep your wits about you. No tangling with the tinsel, no climbing the Christmas decorations, no taking off with the turkey. And definitely, above all, DO NOT eat the humans’ chocolate. Taking their chocolate will likely end with you on the naughty list at best, or in the hospital with a very unhappy human at worst. And an unhappy human, my fine, furry, four-legged friends, is the scariest thing of all! Till next week, this is Mostomescu (Thomas) Plavneka, signing off.

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