By Dr. Chris Duke
Knight Ridder Newspapers
In last week's column, my friend and colleague Dr. Don Palermo provided us with a nice primer for the Halloween season and its pitfalls for pet health.
Today, I'll hone in on the specific problem with chocolate toxicity, and explain why these types of treats should kept away from your pets.
"Although chocolate ingestion is more common in dogs, it's a potential problem in any species," says Jill Richardson, DVM, former poison information specialist with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill. This is from Iam's Clinical Briefs, October 2003.
The problem is that chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are both methylxanthines. The amount of methylxanthenes present depends on the type of chocolate ingested. Generally speaking, the less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. Unsweetened chocolate contains seven times the methylxanthenes than milk chocolate.
To illustrate which type of chocolate is toxic at a particular level, let's begin with milk chocolate.
On a 60-pound dog, it would take ingestion of 60 ounces of chocolate to exceed what is considered a toxic level. On the same dog, 18 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate would yield the same concern. Yet, ingestion of only 6 ounces of baking chocolate would produce a toxic level in a 60-pound dog. This is from "Kirk and Bistner's Handbook of Veterinary Procedures and Emergency Treatment."
I must admit that most of the calls I receive concerning chocolate ingestion in pets are middle-sized to large dogs who eat a few Hershey's Kisses or a Three Musketeers bar. As one can appreciate, these types of incidents are not of great concern.
However, as Richardson shares in the Iam's piece, "We need to remind clients to keep candy out of pets' reach, not let pets in the kitchen unsupervised while baking, and never feed a dog milk chocolate as a treat, because the dog may develop a taste for it and seek it out."
Therein lies the greater threat.
Some of the clinical signs of chocolate toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, excessive drinking and urinating, heart irregularities, seizures and possible coma and death in severe cases.
If pet owners suspect chocolate ingestion has caused these types of symptoms, it is important that clients note what type of chocolate was ingested, the amount and how much the animal weighs. The veterinarian needs to take over care at that point, as active treatment is the best option.
Since the half-life of chocolate is 17.5 hours, one cannot expect instant gratification in reversing these cases. Veterinarians must use emetics and activated charcoal to cleanse out the gastrointestinal tract and provide supportive care through intravenous fluids to help expedite elimination of the methylxanthenes.
Anticonvulsants such as barbiturates or Valium may be necessary to assist in management of seizures. In addition, drugs to assist in the management of respiratory and cardiac abnormalities may become necessary.
I believe I speak for all area veterinarians when I say that we would rather not treat any cases of chocolate toxicity this Halloween season - or anytime, for that matter.
May you all enjoy this fall season with your pets, and above all take it easy with the chocolate - especially around pets.
© 2003, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.