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Many dogs have a sweet tooth and relish the taste of chocolate, but the candy is toxic to both dogs and cats. The incidence of chocolate toxicity increases around the holidays, when owners have more candy available.
Chocolate is made from the roasted seeds of cocoa plants and contains a substance called theobromine, along with small amounts of caffeine; both are toxic to pets. Milk chocolate found in candy bars contains about forty-two milligrams of theobromine per ounce. Typically, a toxic dose of milk chocolate is five ounces per pound of body weight, so while a bite of chocolate generally isn't a concern, a ten-pound dog may get very sick from eating as little as eight ounces of milk chocolate.
Unsweetened baking chocolate is much more dangerous because it contains nearly ten times as much theobromine as milk chocolate does, about 450 milligrams of theobromine per ounce. Baking chocolate is used to make brownies, chocolate cake, and other desserts. A lethal dose of theobromine is 0.67 to 1.3 ounces of baking chocolate per 2.2 pounds of dog. That means your ten pound dog can become sick simply by licking off the chocolate frosting on a large cake!
Signs of chocolate poisoning are often delayed for up to eight hours following ingestion, with death occurring twelve to twenty-four hours post-poisoning. Some dogs show few signs, then suddenly die of heart failure. If you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate, don't wait for symptoms; get help immediately!
The theobromine and caffeine are stimulants that affect the dog's nervous system, causing hyperactive behavior along with other signs. Dogs may pass large amounts of urine due to the diuretic effect of thedrug, which also relaxes bladder control. Dogs often drool, act thirsty, and may suffer vomiting and/or have bouts of diarrhea. The drug may either increase the dog's heart rate or cause irregular heartbeat. The signs of poisoning may eventually include muscle spasms or tremors, seizures, coma, and ultimately death.
There is no antidote for chocolate poisoning. Affected dogs are offered supportive treatment to prevent further absorption of the poison and hasten elimination, along with symptomatic treatment.
When you know your dog has eaten chocolate, it's generally recommended that the owner make the dog throw up as soon as possible. Chocolate isn't absorbed very quickly, so emetics may be helpful for six to eight hours after ingestion.
Refer to the section on Adminstering Medication. An effective emetic is one tablespoon of a 3 percent solution of household hydrogen peroxide for every ten pounds of pet. Repeat the dose in ten minutes if the first dose doesn't do the trick. Whether successful in inducing vomiting or not, bring your dog to the veterinary hospital so further help can be offered.
Activated charcoal may be administered to help prevent additional absorption of the theobromine into the dog's system. Signs of shock are addressed with fluid therapy, and seizures, heart irregularities, vomiting, and diarrhea are each specifically treated with appropriate medications. The treatment is often prolonged, because the high-life of theobromine--the time it takes the body to eliminate it--is seventy-two hours in dogs.
The best way to deal with chocolate toxicity is to prevent the problem from ever happening. If your dog has a sweet tooth, keep chocolate out of reach.