Pet Poison Prevention: Understanding Chocolate Toxicity in Pets

The delicious aroma of chocolate can be difficult for many people to resist and pets are no different. However, chocolate can be toxic to pets and may cause death in some cases. It is not uncommon for pets to sneak some of this sweet treat. In fact, in 2020 chocolate was the fourth most common pet toxin reported by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center with approximately 76 cases reported daily. OurAnimal Emergency Care team wants pet owners to understand the dangers of chocolate and what to do if your pet accidentally becomes poisoned. 

Why is chocolate dangerous for pets?

Chocolate toxicity occurs from excessive ingestion of the methylxanthine chemicals theobromine and caffeine which are present in variable amounts in most chocolates. In humans, these stimulant chemicals may be used as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and smooth muscle relaxant. Pets cannot efficiently metabolize these stimulants and it can take more than four days for chocolate to process through their bodies. Dogs are more commonly affected by chocolate toxicity, but cats also may be affected. The severity of the toxicity depends on the amount and type of chocolate consumed. Darker, less sweet, and bitter chocolates generally contain higher levels of caffeine and theobromine. White chocolate and milk chocolate tend to have lower levels of toxic chemicals, but one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be lethal for some dogs. Some chocolate-containing treats such as sugar-free candy or cake may be mixed with other toxic ingredients, including xylitol, raisins, or macadamia nuts.

Pets who ingest toxic amounts of chocolate are at risk for death because of cardiac arrest or central nervous system problems. Additionally, pets who ingest chocolate have an increased risk of developing pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammatory condition that can be life-threatening. Pets typically also will not discriminate between the candy wrapper and the treat, and wrappers can lead to upset stomachs and in more severe cases intestinal blockages. 

Chocolate toxicity signs in pets 

Chocolate toxicity signs may not be immediately obvious and can take several hours to develop in some cases. Signs are variable and depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. They can include: 

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Pale or blue gums
  • Tremors 
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures

Chocolate toxicity diagnosis and treatment in pets 

A chocolate toxicity diagnosis is based on a pet’s ingestion history and clinical signs. Some pets will not show immediate signs of poisoning, but bring them in to your veterinarian immediately if you observe them eating anything that contains chocolate. Your veterinarian may induce your pet to vomit if the ingestion has occurred recently, but never induce vomiting in your pet yourself unless directed to do so by a veterinarian. Pets with severe toxicity signs or those who are experiencing seizures, hypothermia, or an irregular heart rate likely will require an extended hospital stay for emergency care and continued observation. Your veterinarian may recommend several blood tests to monitor for changes in your pet’s organ function and electrolytes. Treatments may include: 

  • Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring
  • Body temperature monitoring and specialized cooling pads
  • IV fluids to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances and to decontaminate 
  • Activated charcoal for toxin absorption
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Gastroprotectant medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-seizure medication

Financial planning for chocolate toxicity treatment in pets

Pets undergoing chocolate toxicity treatment often require an extended hospital stay and several checkups which can be expensive. However, pet health insurance like Trupanion can ensure you can cover the costs for your pet’s emergency care because of an accidental poisoning. Trupanion can pay your veterinary clinic directly, which may eliminate the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Other alternative payment options include:

  • Care Credit 
  • Scratch Pay 
  • Pet health savings accounts 
  • Short-term loans 

Chocolate toxicity prevention in pets

Keeping any products containing chocolate out of paw’s reach is the easiest most important way of preventing chocolate toxicity in your pet. Always check the label before giving your pet human food treats to ensure they do not contain any chocolate or caffeine-containing products. Other prevention tips include:

  • Storing household candy in a pet-proof container
  • Covering all garbage cans to prevent ingestion of candy wrappers
  • Never leaving candy bowls, desserts, or drinks containing chocolate liquor on the table or in a room with unsupervised pets
  • Considering placing pets in a separate room during gatherings at which chocolate candies or desserts may be served

If you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate, or if they are showing chocolate toxicity signs, do not hesitate to seek treatment. Animal Emergency Care is available to help your pet any time, day or night. #AECprevents

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