Many pet owners are aware that chocolate is considered toxic to our pets; however, how much chocolate and how toxic it is are common questions that we in the veterinary profession answer. Often we hear stories of the family Labrador getting into a whole box of chocolates and suffering no ill effects, so how bad can it be? The answer lies in understanding the toxic component of chocolate, how the concentration differs depending on the type of chocolate and how the size of animal impacts the risk of toxicity.
The ingredients of concern in chocolate are theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine and caffeine belong to a family of compounds called methylxanines. Methylxanines act as a central nervous system stimulant and cardiovascular stimulant. Toxic levels of methylxanines cause nausea, vomiting, an increase in blood pressure, increased heart rate, restlessness, hyperactivity, tremors, seizures and possibly even death. Theobromine is present in much higher amounts than caffeine in chocolate, therefore, it is the theobromine concentration that we consider when determining if chocolate toxicity has occurred. The concentration of theobromine in chocolate is related to the percentage of cocoa, meaning that unsweetened baker’s chocolate has much more theobromine than a Kinder Surprise milk chocolate egg. The chart below shows the average amount of theobromine in one gram of various common types of chocolate.
Let’s look at what all of this would mean to a 5kg Miniature Poodle that has just ate a 43g milk chocolate bar versus 43g of unsweetened baker’s chocolate. In the first scenario signs of toxicity would be very mild and likely consist of nausea and vomiting. However, the same volume of unsweetened baker’s chocolate would cause severe signs of toxicity including tremors, restlessness, vomiting and possibly seizures. Conversely a 30kg Labrador Retriever that consumed the same 43g of baker’s chocolate would show little to no signs of intoxication. How does this apply to your pet? If your pet has ingested any chocolate it is important to contact your veterinarian. Provide the veterinarian with the type of chocolate and volume of chocolate consumed, this will help them determine whether or not your pet requires medical attention as well as what level of treatment is required.
Treatment for chocolate ingestion varies depending on the severity of intoxication. Most cases of chocolate ingestion involve small quantities of milk chocolate with mild signs of vomiting and nausea. In cases with mild signs and a small quantity of ingested theobromine, close monitoring is recommended, but no further treatment. With larger volumes of cocoa ingestion the veterinarian will likely induce vomiting and administer a charcoal compound to decrease the amount of theobromine that enters the blood stream. A complete blood test may be ran to assess kidney and liver function. Dogs and cats suffering from toxicity may then be placed on intravenous fluid therapy to help flush their system of theobromine.
The effects of chocolate vary significantly depending on the size of your pet and the type of chocolate ingested so please be sure to contact your veterinarian during any case of chocolate ingestion. Remember, even dogs and cats have a sweet tooth, protect your pet by keeping all chocolate in closed cupboard.