With the Easter season here, the phone call that we are sure to get will go something like this: “Excuse me Dr. Vogl, but Mrs. Kottentayle is on the phone and their Beagle ‘Peter’ just ate a few of those foil wrapped chocolate eggs, wrapper and all.”
She knows that chocolate is poisonous for dogs and wants to know what she should do.
“Have her come right over and make sure she brings the rest of the chocolate eggs too. You know the routine.”
I let the rest of the staff know there is another toxicity case coming over, and they need to get everything ready for the emergency. Apomorphine and peroxide (to inducing vomiting), activated charcoal liquid (to absorb the deadly toxin), an IV catheter and fluids to diurese (flush) the blood stream.
Peter arrives, tail wagging as usual and we ask the million-dollar question: How many eggs did he ingest. “Two, maybe three at most,” is the reply. Then I ask to see the bag of colorfully wrapped toxins. Now comes the serious part: every staff member immediately opens up several of the creamy, sweet, delicious treats and pops them into their mouths.
Just as we suspected all along, Peter is going to be fine. In fact, if I had been home I would have given Peter another egg to share in our fun.
So, what’s the big deal with chocolate and it being poisonous to dogs? Yes, chocolate does have a substance (theobromine) that is toxic IF taken in sufficient quantities. The amount of theobromine varies greatly with the type of chocolate. The least toxic is milk chocolate (44mg theobromine per ounce), then dark (130mg/oz.), semi-sweet (150mg/oz.), Baker’s (450mg/oz.), dry cocoa powder and cocoa beans(800mg/oz.).
To put it in practical terms, one to two ounces of milk chocolate for a 10 pound dog might cause some vomiting and/or diarrhea. Ten ounces of milk chocolate however, could be fatal to a 10 pound dog. Note that Baker’s chocolate would be10 times more toxic.
Signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating. Over hours this progresses to hyperactivity, tremors, incoordination, and seizures and death. There is no specific antidote for chocolate poisoning. Treatment involves inducing vomiting if exposure was within a couple of hours. Activated charcoal is given to absorb the toxins, along with intravenous fluids if necessary. There is a wonderful online calculator that veterinarians can use to plug in the weight of the dog, type of chocolate and amount ingested to determine if toxic levels were received. For example a 50 pound dog starts showing signs at about six ounces of milk chocolate and needs emergency care at about 12.
In the case of chocolate chip cookies or brownies, our reply is a little different. It is office policy that we sample a plate of these, preferably warm, with a gallon of milk. I ask you, would your own physician be willing to make the sacrifice, take the risks and expose himself to something toxic to his patients?
It’s what we do.