Chocolate – The Delectable Danger

Chocolate – The Delectable Danger
By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx.

Why do the best tasting things in life so often lead to the most trouble? Whoppers: trouble; ice cream: trouble; bacon: trouble; why even chocolate has its risks – for our pets.
Chocolate in fact has two components that make animals sick; high fat content and chemicals called theobromines. A sudden high fat meal – like when your pooch devours a bag full of chocolate kisses – can lead to a painful and dangerous disorder called pancreatitis. This inflammatory condition of the pancreas causes abdominal pain, listlessness, vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. In more severe cases, the animal becomes increasingly sick, and often requires hospitalization.
The most threatening components of chocolate, though, are those theobromines that I mentioned. This group of compounds, in the same family as caffeine and theophylline, acts as vasodilators, diuretics, and stimulate a rapid heart rate. Theobromine is especially toxic to dogs, cats, and parrots because they are unable to metabolize the chemical as rapidly as other animals and humans. The chemical builds up in the bloodstream rapidly, so these species can more easily consume enough chocolate to cause chocolate poisoning.
Theobromine content varies in different forms of chocolate; toxicity therefore depends on the form of chocolate ingested, how much is eaten, the animal’s size, and individual sensitivities:

Chocolate Type Mg Theobromine/Oz Toxicity: Oz/ 10 Pound Pet
Milk chocolate 44 mg 4.0 oz
Semisweet chocolate 150 mg 1.4 oz
Baking chocolate 390 mg 0.5 oz
Dry cocoa powder 800 mg 0.25 oz

Referring to the table above, we see that the forms of chocolate with the highest levels of theobromine cause toxicity in animals more rapidly, with smaller amounts of chocolate ingestion. Dry cocoa powder, for example, is almost 20 times more potent than milk chocolate. Note that it takes approximately 4 ounces of milk chocolate to produce clinical signs in a 10-pound pet, but only 1/2 ounce of baking chocolate and ¼ ounce of the cocoa powder to cause illness in the same animal.

The first signs of theobromine toxicosis are vomiting, diarrhea, and increases in thirst and urination. The animals become exceeding nervous, hyperactive, and may develop muscle tremors. This set of symptoms can progress to abnormal cardiac rhythms, seizure activity, internal bleeding, and even death.
A visit to the veterinarian is highly recommended whenever a pet is seen, or is suspected of, eating chocolate. Rapid therapy can decrease the absorption of this toxic delicacy and promote a more rapid recovery from the effects of both fat and theobromines. It can take up to three days for the body to metabolize a given dosage of theobromine, so medical care is essential when clinical signs develop.

Veterinarians are able to induce vomiting within the first two hours of ingestion and administer activated charcoal to remove as much chocolate from the intestinal tract as possible. After these measures, treatment may involve administration of intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and provide diuresis, and dosing with medications to control nervous activity, seizures, and abnormal heart rhythms.

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