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The Truth About Chocolate

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Halloween is one of the scariest, yet also sweetest, times of the year—quite literally, considering there is an abundance of chocolate and other delicious confectionaries stocked in grocery stores. While enjoying a pile of chocolate goodness from Halloween parties can be fun for us humans, it may not have quite the same effect on your best friends.

It should be stated upfront that chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats. It is of the utmost importance to keep chocolate and your pets as far apart as possible. What is perhaps exaggerated, however, is the lethality of chocolate. According to Dr. Tim Hackett, a veterinarian at Colorado State University, it all depends on quantity and quality.  

Chocolate, formed from the bitter seeds of the cacao tree, contains caffeine, theobromine as well as a family of compounds known as methlyxanthines. When binding to receptors on cell surfaces, these compounds, in low amounts, have been known to cause vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. Larger quantities, however, can cause seizures or muscle tremors, and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

While cats aren’t typically as curious about people-food as dogs, it is still important to keep chocolate out of their reach. Like their canine cousins, chocolate can make cats sick and can cause death in extreme cases. Symptoms of chocolate ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle rigidity, rapid breathing and increased heart rate. If you are think that your cat or kitten may have eaten chocolate, bring your pet to the vet immediately where she can perform an exam, which will likely include a chemical blood profile, electrolyte panel and urinalysis. She will likely also induce vomiting to make sure it is out of their system too.

Dogs, on the other hand, like humans, have a taste for sweets and will often seek them out. The type or concentration of chocolate will also affect its lethality. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate are among the most poisonous to dogs, due to their high concentration of cacao. Milk chocolate and white chocolate, due to their lower concentrations, are not as deadly (except for small dogs, like chihuahuas, who can die from consuming less than 4 oz. of milk chocolate), but will still cause irritation and many digestive issues for your pet.  Large dogs can generally handle small amounts of chocolate, but large doses are very capable of causing an emergency trip to the vet.

The trick is to notice the problem and act quickly. Try to take note of the type and quantity of chocolate that has been consumed compared to your dog’s size (for instance, a 27 lb. dog can eat approximately 27 oz. of milk chocolate, but only 3 oz. of baking chocolate). Do not hesitate to call your vet to seek further instruction. Sometimes, it can take up to 6-12 hours for dogs to show symptoms of chocolate poisoning, so if you find a chewed-up candy wrapper, be sure to call your vet before the vomiting begins. There is no need to panic—your vet will be able to give you the advice and care you need.

Bonnie Ruszczyk

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