Dog and cat owners must be aware that chocolate can be toxic for their pets if they eat it accidentally.
Cause of chocolate intoxication in dogs and cats
Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a methylated xanthine alkaloid, and is a poisonous chemical for dogs and cats. Theobromine is rapidly absorbed orally and distributed throughout the body. The severity of clinical signs depends on the amount of theobromine ingested, which varies between chocolate products due to natural differences in cocoa beans and the end-product formulation. There may also be some genetic susceptibility to theobromine toxicity in some dogs.
Percentage of cocoa in chocolate products and poisoning dose
Chocolate products contain different amount of cocoa. For example, white chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, and therefore risk for theobromine poisoning is low but the high fat content may present a risk of pancreatitis (24-72 hours after ingestion).
Milk chocolate contains a minimum of 20% cocoa solids and dark chocolate a minimum of 35% cocoa solids.
Theobromine stimulates the central nervous system and also affects skeletal and cardiac muscle activity. It promotes diuresis and smooth muscle relaxation. Clinical signs can appear within hours after ingestion. Signs of chocolate poisoning can include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Polydipsia and polyuria (increase drinking and urination).
- Hyperactivity, tachycardia (increase cardiac rate), and hypertension are also signs of the stimulation of central nervous system. Cyanosis (purple mucous membranes) and arrhythmia are also less commonly seen. In severe cases, muscle twitching and seizures could develop and hyperthermia (increase body temperature) has been also described
- Clinical signs consistent with pancreatitis (lethargy, inappetence, nausea, abdominal pain)
Treatment is supportive and is aimed at reducing absorption, rehydration and controlling the caused central nervous system stimulation. Possible treatment options include:
- Emesis (vomiting), followed by repeated doses of activated charcoal (for absorption of toxins within gastro intestinal tract). Vomiting can be induced within one hour of presentation. If the patient presents with difficulties to breath, or the mental status is abnormal (stuporous, comatous) or is convulsing, emesis would be contraindicated.
- Promote urination with fluid therapy and water intake
- Sedation if required. Control seizures if needed.
It is important you contact your vets immediately once you notice your dog has eaten chocolate. It is helpful to know the kind of chocolate and if possible how much he might have eaten. This will then be considered together with your dogs’ weight to assess the risk.
Although some patients can feel unwell, serious cases are not common, and deaths are rarely reported. Prognosis may be guarded in dogs with severe clinical signs.