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Chocolate and Pets

September 1, 2015

It’s starting already: I was at the store this weekend and saw a Halloween candy display.

Candy in general is not good for our pets – the high sugar content can cause vomiting and diarrhea. But chocolate can be particularly dangerous because it contains a chemical compound called theobromine. Theobromine is a powerful stimulant that affects many body systems.

It is possible, but rare, for humans to suffer from chocolate toxicity. We metabolize theobromine fairly quickly and this, along with our relatively large size compared to our pets, means we would need to eat tremendous amounts of chocolate to be in danger. Dogs and cats do not metabolize theobromine as quickly as we do and they are smaller, so it takes much less to affect them. In general, dogs are at more risk than cats; cats do not tend to be as attracted to sweet foods as dogs because they do not have taste receptors for sweetness on their tongues. But the risks of chocolate are the same for dogs and cats.

Symptoms depend on your pet’s size as well as the amount and type of chocolate eaten. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromine and the less your pet has to ingest to be dangerous. Even very small amounts of baking chococlate or dark chocolate can be toxic for pets, especially small pets. Milk chocolate contains less theobromine, and white chocolate contains no theobromine at all.

At lower doses, chocolate toxicity may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity. As the dose increases, tremors, seizures, a dangerously high heart rate with or without abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or even death may occur.

If your pet gets into the candy stash, it is very important to call a veterinarian with the type and known or estimated amount of chocolate eaten. If your pet has eaten a toxic amount, treatment might include emesis (making your pet vomit), giving a substance called activated charcoal to help prevent your pet’s body from absorbing the theobromine, intravenous fluids, or drugs to control seizures. The more quickly you act, the less time your pet’s body has to absorb the theobromine and the more likely s/he is to be able to be treated on an outpatient basis.

Of course, the best treatment is prevention! Keep candy where your pet can’t get to it, and don’t leave the candy bowl unattended on the big night whether you are hosting a party or having trick or treaters. Here’s to a fun and safe Halloween season!


Written by: Karen Christopherson DVM CVA

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